After the holidays, I always get the perhaps misplaced urge to put myself on a week-long cleanse. I never look forward to these weeks. It means great tests in self-control, denial of favorite foods and beverages, and the turning of one’s eyes inward to all the nooks and crannies that have been left to cobweb over for the last six months.
That being said, I’d like to think I’m not responsible for what takes place in this post as I’m currently on day three without coffee.
This time of self-awareness has also allowed me to think about what it means to detoxify, even in my writing. Toxic places exist in writers. And not just from an over-abundance of wine or coffee or pastries from Panera. Writers can be riddled with toxic feelings of self-doubt, frustration and apathy. We have toxic habits, ones that keep our writing from progressing.
So as I continue on this week of cleaning out my body, I’ve devised ideas to clean up my writing as well.
1. If a scene feels misplaced, disjointed, or non-essential it probably is. We put a lot of effort into writing particular chapters or dialogues that we are personally attached to. But they fail to move the characters along the right path. Letting those pieces go will strengthen the plot, especially if they are a tripping hazard for the continuation of the story. If this is too harsh a jump for you, feel free to borrow my technique of saving all the cuttings in a “deleted scenes” file.
2. When editing, weed out particular phrases, words and poor habits of grammar that you’ve been too generous with. Like that morning donut binge or an extra glass of wine, overused adverbs and descriptions make us think that we’re enhancing our story. But really they interrupt the flow, distract the reader, and commit the cardinal sin of assuming the reader isn’t smart enough to know exactly how one character tells the other to go jump off a pier (bitingly).
3. Finally, self-doubt. I’m afraid of my inadequacies being proved. I’m afraid once my work is out in the world, people will reject it. But if you believe in your story, and do it justice by telling it to the best of your ability, editing it with respect to its essence and taking the time that it deserves, there is no failure.
So take a deep, cleansing breath and give it a try. The initial pain is worth the end result.