Showing, Telling, and Paddling Ducks

“Show, don’t tell.”

That’s the mantra that gets hammered into the head of every beginning writer. If you’ve ever taken a creative writing class or attended a writer’s conference, you’ve probably heard something along the lines of, “Don’t say ‘Sally is sad.’ Show us Sally being sad.” This leads to painting a picture of Sally’s sad expression, describing the teardrops streaking her face, and detailing Sally’s posture and movements in a way that makes it clear to readers just how unhappy Sally is.

That’s good advice, as far as it goes. The problem is that for most people, external emotional responses are just a tiny part of their actual reaction. Indeed, one of the most important things we learn as we grow from childhood to adulthood is to hide our emotions.

It’s like that famous quote, usually attributed to actor Michael Caine: “Be like a duck. Remain calm on the surface and paddle like crazy underneath.” If your characters are to come off as real people, most of their emotional reactions are going to be entirely internal. And if we only ever describe the tranquility above the surface, our readers might never guess at the frantic paddling that’s going on down below.

My Own Achilles’ Heel

I’m blessed to be in a writing group with three perceptive readers who are diligent at reminding me when I’m not telling enough. We submit our chapters to each other using Google Docs, and we use the platform’s commenting feature extensively. When my group reviews my writing, the most common response I get from them is something along the lines of, “Where’s the emotional response?”

Okay, I’ll be honest. Sometimes I just forget. What happens, I think, is that I get lazy and assume that readers will take their own emotional response to the story and project it onto the POV character. This usually falls flat. Just as often, though, I’ll write a character’s physical response but forget to dig into the inner reaction to help carry the story along.

So I submit my chapters. The next day, I’ll open up them up to see a comment from Kris: “How does she feel about what just happened?” Mike has responded to Kris with something like, “I was wondering the same thing.” Inevitably, Kelli has added, “That makes three of us.”

That’s how I know I need to go back and revise.

Show and Tell

In a guest post on WritersDigest.com, author Joshua Henkin calls “show, don’t tell” the “Great Lie of Writing Workshops.” As he explains:

“A story is not a movie is not a TV show, and I can’t tell you the number of student stories I read where I see a camera panning. Movies are a perfectly good art from [sic], and they’re better at doing some things than novels are—at showing the texture of things, for instance. But novels are better at other things. At moving around in time, for example, and at conveying material that takes place in general as opposed to specific time…. But most important, novels can describe internal psychological states, whereas movies can only suggest them through dialogue and gesture (and through the almost always contrived-seeming voiceover, which is itself a borrowing from fiction).”

Showing is good. We have to show. But the best writers also embrace telling as a technique that allows them to provide much better insight into what the duck is doing down there with its little webbed feet.

As author Lee Child says, “We’re not story showers. We’re story tellers.”

Balancing Show and Tell

I’m still learning how to use both showing and telling effectively in my own writing. Honestly, it’s been difficult for me. From my work with my writing group, though, I can single out four suggestions that have really helped me improve.

1. Keep your POV character(s) in mind.

If you’re writing in first person, you’re telling pretty much all the time. The conceit of first person is that the reader is getting a direct feed of the point-of-view character’s inner monologue. This can lead to a vivid, unique voice that’s difficult to achieve from other points of view.

Stories in third person unlimited aren’t as common as they used to be. With this POV, the narrative voice drifts in and out of heads, reading the thoughts and emotional reactions of whatever character makes sense at the moment. In contrast, with third person limited the inner voice comes through a single character who is the focus of the book, chapter, or section.

Regardless of how you deal with points of view, it’s critical to consider how your characters would react to everything happening around them. Knowing your characters—their wants and needs, strengths and weaknesses, goals and regrets—is the easy part. Translating those character traits into genuine human reactions is where things get really tough.

2. Take an “all of the above” approach.

We usually start by showing. Your characters say and do things. They act and react. Even the “stage directions” that accompany your dialogue can go a long way towards portraying realistic human responses. A sidelong glance, a cock of the eyebrow, or a sudden intake of breath all say something to the reader.

Beneath all the “camera and microphone” stuff is the internal dialogue. You can present your characters’ direct thoughts (“Geez—what’s her problem?“), or you can report their thoughts in third person (“Gwendolyn wondered what Julie’s problem was.”). The things your characters notice and internally comment on can go a long way toward rounding out your POV characters’ responses.

If you do this enough, you’ll often find yourself monitoring your own thoughts and feelings, gauging your own private reactions to things as they happen to you, so you can use your responses later in your writing. Inevitably, you’ll find yourself wondering whether your personal reactions might be a little different if you weren’t watching them like a fly on the wall of your own brain.

Yeah, Heisenberg is kind of a jerk.

3. Do an “emotional response” edit pass.

My experience with my writing group has told me that I need to spend more time crafting my characters’ reactions to emotion-inducing events. As I’m getting my chapters ready for review, I set aside time to go methodically through each section, noting response-worthy moments and checking the narrative for appropriate reactions.

There are so many things to consider as you do this. Aside from your characters’ actual reactions, you have to figure out the right way to couch them in the voice you’ve chosen. In fast-paced action sequences, your characters may not have much time to respond to things. It may take a beat or two (or the end of the action) until your characters’ heads and hearts can catch up. If your story uses a “scene-sequel” structure, you may provide an immediate reflex to the emotional high points and then amplify your characters’ reactions in the scenes that follow.

However you choose to do it, explicitly tying the big moments in your story to specific reactions in your characters can solidify the impact these moments have on your reader.

4. Ask readers for help.

No matter how much effort I put into fine-tuning my characters’ responses, I always miss something. Usually multiple somethings. The amazing people in my writing group know me well enough that they instinctively look for off-key or absent reactions in the chapters I submit for review.

If you have similar challenges in your own writing, you can ask your readers to be specifically on the lookout for areas where characters’ emotional reactions don’t seem to meet their expectations. Give them a shorthand comment or a specific highlight color to use to indicate particular passages where a little telling could supplement what you’re already showing. Once others have helped identify the problem passages, go back to your characters to find out what their inner (and outer) responses should be.

My own writing has benefited from this process. I hope yours does, too.

showing-telling-ducks

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David-Profile-PicDavid Baker is an author, playwright, marketing professional, blogger and freelance editor. He has ghost-written several books and authored dozens of published articles on such topics as business technology, the insurance industry, marketing and data security. He writes both YA and “grown-up” fiction and is actively querying several projects. He also edits the monthly journal of a national trade organization. In his spare time, he runs marathons, shoots guns, cooks curries, paints shoes and builds things. He has an A.A. in theater, a B.A. in English and an M.A. in linguistics. Born in Arizona, raised in Hawaii, currently living in Utah, David is actively involved in theater. His stage play, Inside Al, won the Henry Fonda Young Playwright Award and premiered at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. The play is published by Samuel French and has been in near-continuous production for more than two decades, with hundreds of performances across the US and Canada. You can find his personal blog at blog.bakerdavid.com.

Writer Beware: Speed Bumps Ahead

There are moments when a writer feels blocked. No words come. The story stalls. You’re staring at a brick wall. Every writer needs their own bag of tricks for overcoming Writer’s Block. (One of the best: a deadline.)

Speed Bumps

You might not have heard of another writer condition, one similar to Writer’s Block, but it differs in a significant way. I call it Writer’s Speed Bump, and knowing how to treat it is critical. Continue reading

Goals and Revising in 2018

Happy New Year! I hope 2018 is a year full of joy and peace for all of us!

Like many others, around this time of year I find myself thinking back on the last year, thinking about what worked out well for me, what turned out…less well, and how I would like things to go better in the future. It recently occurred to me how similar this approach to my life is to the act of revising.

Now, I have always preferred drafting to revising. I love the freedom to do whatever I want in a story, to go wherever I want with it, and that push to get the words on the page. But revision? Not so much. I’ve struggled to know how to approach revision and what to even do with my words once they are on the page.

In the last couple of years, I’ve pushed myself to try to learn to revise better and, although it’s slower than I would sometimes like, I am making progress. Good progress.

Goals and Revising in 2018.png

There are several similarities between making goals and progress in my personal life and making improvements to a manuscript. Here are three of the ones that have really stood out to me as I’ve tried to learn to revise better:

1. Slow down and take time to think.

I draft pretty quickly. I get the words down on the page in a happy, slapdash sort of way and don’t worry too much about whether a scene needs to be in the story or if the motivations make sense or any of that.

When I revise, though, I need to slow down and take a more thoughtful, deliberate approach. Same with making life goals. If I decide I want to exercise every day, I need to figure out how that will fit with the rest of the moving parts of my life. If I decide to add a scene or a character or a subplot to my story, I also have to consider how those changes will affect the rest of my story. I can’t just bulldoze my way through without taking the time to think or I end up with the same problems with my next draft.

2. Look at the whole.

When I decide to make changes in my life, I have to step back and take an honest—and realistic—look at how I’m doing. Both the good and the bad. Maybe I do need to eat more vegetables and eat less sugar and drink more water…but I’m also doing great at working out every week. Making sure to recognize the good in both my life and my story helps me to keep going and to not give up in despair because, frankly, I don’t particularly like most vegetables.

Sometimes it’s so easy to look at a project that needs revising and make a seemingly endless list of everything that’s wrong with it. But there are good things, too! There always are. Look for them, for the places where your writing does what you wanted it to, and try to bring the rest up to that level.

3. Remember it’s your life/story.

One of the hardest things for me to learn—and remember—in life and writing is that I will never be able to make everyone happy. Just as I can’t base my New Year’s Resolutions on what my neighbor needs to do, I can’t revise based on the issues I see in someone else’s book. And just as I shouldn’t base my goals on what I think my neighbor thinks I ought to do, I shouldn’t revise my story to fit someone else’s notion of what my book should be.

In the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice, the director chose to show in-scene a small incident between Elizabeth Bennet and Maria Lucas. Maria was so undone by Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s insistence on the only right way to fold clothing that she tried to repack all her boxes. Elizabeth responded by telling Maria that it was her luggage and that Lady Catherine would never know.

It’s your book. Revise it to match your image for it, not Lady Catherine’s.

Happy revising in 2018!

What about you? What tips do you have for approaching a revision? 

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Jenilyn Collings loves to read and is always looking for books that will make her laugh. She is currently working on an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She enjoys watching Korean dramas, BBC period pieces, and thinks Avatar: the Last Airbender is the best show ever made.

Use Small Details to Strengthen a Story

“It’s amazing, in this game played on a 120 yard field, how many times inches make games.”

This is the statement Cris Collinsworth said during the Sunday Night Football Game I was watching last night. The Packers were playing, down, and almost out of opportunities to tie up the game. It’s not the first time that I have heard such statements, but as I was thinking about writing and habits, craft and successes, I became quite aware of what this really meant.

In order to make the big things really happen, there is a necessity to make the small things happen too.

Yes, you have to be able to draft and think up characters and outline settings. Yes, there is a necessity to finish – all the way – and then do some large, sweeping revisions and edits and layering. But, to take the writing from a good story to a great story, it is the small details that really need to be solidified.

small details.png

Tip #1: Hone in on the Senses

Last year, Orly Konig shared some great ideas on how to utilize sensory details in a story. If you have someone who is naturally musical, their preference is probably going to be sound. Knowing how they interpret that is what will make the character development stronger. If it makes sense in your story to rely on sight, consider the character who is seeing: a cop walking into a room for the first time will notice different things than an interior designer or a professional cleaner/organizer.

Tip #2: Use Rhetoric

One of our contributors, Rosalyn Eves, has a PhD in rhetoric, and from this post, you can tell she knows her stuff. It may seem like a silly thing, but the ebb and flow in and out of sentences can make or break a full story. This is what makes readers forget they are reading through a story and, instead, get immersed in the language and the voice, which, I think, is the goal of most writers.

Tip #3: Speed Up & Slow Down

There are certain times in a story when the pacing needs to pick up a little. This is when the story is jumping ahead, when someone is driving from one place to another because they need to be in a different place. Or when there is nothing until the end of a day. Unless there is serious character issue involved with lunch, we don’t always need to see it.

But there are also times when the plot needs to slow down. This can be detected by staying tuned into the emotional arcs that are weaving into the fabric of the plot, by noticing the way that the emotional pacing is moving the story and the character forward.

What times have you used the small things to make a story great? Any tips you’d like to share with our readers?

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Tasha

Tasha Seegmiller believes in the magic of love and hope, which she weaves into every story she creates. A co-founder of Thinking Through Our Fingers, she is the managing editor of the writing-focused website as well as a contributor to Writers in the Storm. She is passionate about helping women nourish their creativity and is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, where she serves as a board member. The former high school English teacher now assists in managing the award-winning project-based learning program (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. Tasha married a guy she’s known since she was seven and is the mom of three teens. She is represented by Annelise Robey of Jane Rotrosen Agency.

Puzzling Out Your Revisions

I did it! I finished my draft! And now . . . ohhh boy, is it a mess.

I’m not talking about awkward sentences and sparse details—though there’s certainly plenty of that. I’m talking about huge plot and character shifts part way through, characters I introduced, then ghosted on, a beloved pet dog that appears in the first chapter only—that kind of a mess.

I have chapters I wrote, then moved, that now need to be rewritten so they’ll make sense within their new context. I have location shifts, missing parents, siblings that I may or may not add in. . . .

Basically, I have a TON of work ahead of me. When I look at everything that needs to be done, it’s overwhelming.

As writers, one of the most prevalent pieces of advice we’re given is to get the words down. Just get them down, finish that draft, worry about the mess later. We can’t revise what isn’t there, right? This is great advice; however, once we’ve followed it . . . what do we do next?

Puzzling

First, take a deep breath.

Then another.

Ok, just one more.

Now that you’ve calmed down a bit, open your document back up.

You might even want to go so far as to print it out so you can physically go at it with a red pen. Or, if you prefer, you can use the comments option in your word processing software program of choice. Do whichever feels easier for you when it comes to wrapping your head around the monumental task ahead.

First, read your manuscript and take notes—any and all thoughts that come to mind—but resist making any changes at this time. (I know, it’s hard.) If you make changes as you go though, you might find later that the changes you made at the beginning still aren’t going to work with the changes you end up needing to make at the end. Think of this as the Intel-Gathering phase. Right now, you’re a detective figuring out what best needs to be done to your story and how best to do it—how to fit the pieces of this messed up puzzle together in a way that makes the most sense.

Ok, so you’ve done that, and . . . you’re still feeling super intimidated, aren’t you? Maybe you should take a few more deep breaths.

Better? Good.

The next thing you need to do is categorize your notes. Just like separating out puzzle pieces into groups—grass pieces over here, sky pieces there, what looks like maybe the hull of a wooden boat? Maybe it’s a house . . . over there. I find organizing and separating the different types of fixes that need to be made in my draft, helps me break things down into more manageable tasks that make the entire process feel less daunting. Rather than go through the manuscript one time, tackling each note one by one, I’ll make multiple passes focusing on one problem at a time.

Big stuff comes first. (It’s ok to take another deep breath here if you need to. Ready? In . . . out . . . good.)

What is it about your draft that needs the most work? For me, it’s usually characterization. For you, it could be setting, or filling in plot holes, or smoothing transitions. Take the biggest task and go through only focusing on that. Trust me, you’ll feel so much better once you get that bit out of the way. Next, move on to the second biggest issue.

And keep on moving down the list this way. I haven’t finished taking notes on my current draft, but I’m guessing my big focus areas for example, in order from messiest to least messy, will end up being characters, setting, plot holes, transitions, dialogue.

Once you’ve finished these big picture tasks, move on to the nitty-gritty things, like grammar, punctuation, varying your sentence structures, and finally, removing unnecessary filler words (like, very, really, that, etc.) and adverbs.

And that’s it! Keep in mind, you might need to go back and adjust areas you’ve previously focused on after you’ve made some later changes, but it should be much easier now. And then, of course, you’ll absolutely need to go through the entire process again once you’ve let your critique partners and/or beta reads get a hold of it. But the hardest part should be over. Congratulations! You’ve now turned your huge, jumbled up, intimidating mess into something you’re actually willing to let people read! The puzzle is now complete.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Book Deals Come from Rewrites & Revisions

Last month, I got to finally announce my book deal. It was one of those days that you dream of for years and years and it was amazing. THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC is the second novel I’ve ever written, but the book that finally sold to a publisher is totally different from that first draft I started typing two and a half years ago.

I shared on Twitter that it took three rewrites for me to get an agent with this book and three large revisions after that to get a book deal. That tweet got shared a lot and I had a few people want more details about what those revisions were.

So, in the spirit of honesty, and because I feel it’s important for other writers to see what deep revision looks like, I thought I would give you the short version of how my book changed from first draft until now.

We get the job done..png

First Draft

My story started out as a light paranormal about a girl whose two dead grandmothers come back as her guardian angels to help her win back her best friend and find her dad and bring him back home.

I wrote it in about two months and as soon as I typed “The End” I knew it had potential.

What it didn’t have was VOICE.

Rewrite #1

So I let it rest for a couple of weeks, maybe a month and then rewrote the entire thing from scratch. This time with a strong, clear voice that had only shown up occasionally in the first draft. Funny thing, that voice came out in second person. Weird. But I went with it.

After I finished that rewrite, I realized it was in second person because it was a series of letters this girl was writing to her dad. I also had beta readers tell me that the last half was awesome, but the first half was slow and I needed to add more of a goal to give it some direction.

Revision #1-3

Change each chapter into a letter. Add a goal. (If she does well on her math test, they’ll ride horses on the Mist Trail at Yosemite for her birthday.) Try to speed up the beginning.

I spent several, several revisions trying to fix my tension issues in the beginning. I worked on it from May-August

Then I got a second chance at Pitch Wars and a team of three volunteer mentors who were going to help me with my book. I sent it off to the first mentor feeling pretty confident. She got back to me pinpointing exactly why I was having tension issues. The guardian angels had no real purpose for the first half of the book. She said I needed to give them goals. But then made a gentle suggestion that maybe my book would work better a straight contemporary.

I thought that she just must not have gotten my book at all and wasn’t the right audience for it, blah, blah, blah. But she told me it made her cry and she loved the heart of it and I couldn’t get that suggestion out of my head. So after a week of thinking about it, I decided to give it a try.

Rewrite #2

No more guardian angels. One grandma with early dementia. A new idea to tie the story together. The three rules for creating the Everyday Magic behind friends, forgiveness, family, etc.

My CP loved it. My mentor loved it. But it still needed work.

Rewrite #3

Rewrite #3 was more like a series of two or three big formatting revisions that felt like a rewrite by the time I was done. See, I still had this problem of no tension in the beginning of the book. My first mentor suggested it was because all of the letters are written at some time in the future after the story had happened. So I rewrote the letters to being written as the story played out.

Then I sent it to the next mentor and she gave me probably the hardest revision note of all.

The letters weren’t working for her. They were too long and started feeling like regular prose and then all of a sudden went back to sounding like letters. She suggested I change it to a prose story with letters bookending each chapter.

My CP’s and first mentor didn’t agree. They thought I could make the letters work. They LOVED the letters.

***Side Note*** I rarely toss aside a revision note, but it’s so hard when you get conflicting advice. And this whole business is so subjective. How do you know what advice to follow? I have no great advice. All I can tell you is that one of my CP’s who read the earlier drafts of this book told me that she was still sad I got rid of the guardian angels. That she had really loved them. See? Subjectivity. This is hard! It’s okay if you don’t always know what to do.

I decided to try it for a few chapters and then run it by people to see which version won out. I got at least ten beta readers for the first couple chapters.

The version that was only partial-epistolary won by a landslide.

So I changed it and that was a really big revision. Then my mentor suggested I change the prose from past to present. So I did.

Phew! See what I mean about how this series of revision is rewrite #3 in my mind?

But guess what? That tension problem in the first half was so much better. Not totally, completely solved. But so much better.

Thorough Line Edits

Querying

Agent!

Post-Agent Revision #1-3

These revisions were a lot of character deepening for side characters, making certain ones more important, having some show up more, making my mom character more involved, making the bully less stereotypical.

Rewriting my first chapter.

Then two revisions focused on connecting the reader to my main character more. This required a painstaking line edit by a friend with a sharp, sharp eye who pointed out every single place in the manuscript where he felt disconnected from my character or like he didn’t know how she was feeling. It was beyond thorough. It was amazing. But also a lot of work.

I also added a cat. Because kids taking care of cats, I mean, that makes you love a character, right? These were my thoughts.

Submission

R&R from an editor!

This revision was a rewrite of probably 30% of the book at least. I added 3 or four new chapters to the beginning, a lot of memories that became kind of a tiny sub plot, I completely overhauled the bully character into someone who I felt barely registered on the mean scale. I did a lot more that I can’t even remember because I ended having to do it on a very tight timeline (10 days!) It’s kind of a blur, honestly.

Resubmit

Wait Anxiously

Book Deal!

Celebrate!

More Revisions!

You guys, my first round of revisions were a doozy. I had to rewrite about half the book. My beginning and ending were both too long, the beginning was still too sad. My bully was still too mean. I had to find ways to show how my MC was similar and different from her mom to draw out the tension and connection there more.

And then she asked me to cut stuff. All that stuff that I’d added to kind of be a bandaid for my tension and connection issues? My editor is so good, she saw right through it. She didn’t know that I’d added the subplot with the math test and the birthday in Yosemite so my MC could have a goal. Or that I added the subplot with the cat so readers would connect with her more. But she picked both out and said, “These are extraneous. You don’t need them. Take them out and you’ll find something else closer to the very heart of your story to replace it with.” Then she suggested something that had just barely come out of all those memories I added in the last revision that I hadn’t even thought were a big deal. She wanted me to focus more on that.

So, that’s two subplots cut. Another character overhaul on the bully. Three or four chapters deleted, two or three new chapters in their place. I cut the ending length in half and added a subplot that served to show my MC’s dad fall further and further into depression. I changed the timeline of the story from six month to four weeks.

It was a huge revision.

And you guys, it’s so much better.

But guess what I’m going to get soon?

More Revision Notes

This is publishing.

Writing is rewriting is probably the most truthful thing ever written about writing.

Not every book that gets published has to go through this many intense revisions. But mine did. And that’s okay. Don’t quit. Don’t get discouraged. Keep working and trying and rewriting.

You’ll get there.

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Amanda Rawson Hill grew up in southwest Wyoming with a library right out her back gate, which accounts a lot for how she turned out. She now resides in central California where she is a gardener, chemist, homeschool mom, Yosemite explorer, and Disneyland enthusiast. She writes middle-grade fiction and is represented by Elizabeth Harding at Curtis Brown LTD.

4 Tips for Decluttering Your Manuscript

This week was my Spring Break, and I spent the time getting my affairs in order. Spring is most definitely in the air (at least it is where I live), and decluttering is something I’ve been putting off, but this week I threw open my windows, rolled up my sleeves, and dove in(to my closet).

I also took the opportunity to declutter my WIP, a process that I dreaded but wound up enjoying. (What?)

When revising, you should go through your manuscript and declutter by cutting unnecessary words.  Yes, sometimes those words amount to an entire line. Or a scene. Or a character. Or an entire subplot. Yes, most writers find it painful to cut thousands of words *cries* when we invested so much to get to that high word count. However, a meandering story or pointless dialogue will not engage your readers, and if any of your words do not serve your plot or your characters, they need to go. (For super useful information about when and why you should be ruthless at cutting words, I highly recommend Elaine Vickers’ post on The Reductive Revision.)

declutter

If either your house or your manuscript is beginning to feel like fodder for the producers of  Hoarders, here are four tips on how to declutter your life…I mean, manuscript:

  1. Put things in their place. I always feel better when everything is stored away in its place. There’s no reason to keep all of those hair scrunchies in my writing desk drawer, after all. Laundry, while functional in its basket, could be hung, folded, and put away, I suppose. As applied to writing, I like to organize the work that I have left so I can systematically put everything in its place. Scrivener has a handy feature where you can mark your chapters/scenes as “To Do,” “First Draft,” “Revised Draft,” and so on. I love this feature because I can tell at a glance where I need to be when I’m revising. Just like making a chore list at home (my kids do this, and yes, I also do this for myself), I also leave myself document notes for what I need to change in my drafts. As I complete those tasks, I cross these off one by one, and it’s even more satisfying than putting all of my winter clothes away for the season.
  2. Put things in storage. Not sure if you’ll wear that trendy jacket next year but not ready to get rid of it because you bought it this season? Put it into storage. Likewise, if you’re not sure if you need that scene or dialogue that you cut from chapter three, put it into storage. I save all of my extraneous scenes in a separate section in Scrivener called “Saved for Later” (you could do the same with a separate word processing file). If I do need those words, I know exactly where to find them. Sometimes I resurrect these words, but more often than not, I *gasp* don’t, which brings me to #3.
  3. Throw things away. My storage room in my basement has bins for toys that my kids don’t play with anymore. Occasionally they dig around in them and play with an old favorite, but the ones that are not touched within six months wind up being donated to charity. I also have items stuck away in that storage room that makes it to charity on a semi-regular basis, but a few pieces of this “favorite” junk have made the move with us to multiple houses. Similarly, I admit to carting around those deleted scenes and lines for multiple manuscripts. But here’s the thing: I’ve never used these words. When I’ve tried to insert something that I cut from one manuscript into another or even to a different version of a manuscript, it feels like trying to shove a puzzle piece into a space that doesn’t fit. I have to restructure these words so much that it would have saved me time and emotional energy if I’d just written them from scratch. Holding onto cut words and characters is primarily an emotional decision (in my opinion). If you’re holding onto them from project to project, evaluate whether it’s time to let them go. *clings* *says goodbye*
  4. Take a moment to admire all the things. The best thing about this week is that I’ve rediscovered the floor of my closet. Just kidding. I mean, I did rediscover the floor of my closet, and yes, the carpet is still the same color. But I’ve also rediscovered the joy in my story. It feels strange for me to say this, but I think I have been so focused on fixing my manuscript that I had fallen slightly out of love with my overall writing. Matt Williams posted earlier this week some great ideas on how to add voice to stories, and it inspired me to convert the chapter I’d been working into a .mobi file and drop it onto my Kindle app. As I read it, I was happy with how my changes translated to the page, and I was able to quickly bookmark one or two things that made it onto my to-do list. By decluttering, organizing, and shining up my characters and their scenes, I also have a better view of where they need to go from here. And I have a better appreciation of my writing, too.
  5. Have some chocolate. Technically, I said I would share four tips, but I find that a reward is always appropriate for good work. If you’re not a chocolate fan, choose your reward accordingly. ❤

Do you have any spring cleaning tips for your manuscript (or life)? I’d love it if you could share them in the comments!

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helen2Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romances LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (coming soon). You can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com.