Clean Lines-in books and in bedrooms

For Christmas, Dear Hubby and I exchanged bed sets. 

We replaced our old and ratty one for a shiny, new one.  It was time.  The mattress was sagging, the dressers were nicked up and the night stand was really an end table masquerading as a place to put our lamp. 

Our new bedroom is dark, heavy and full of clean lines.  There is nothing extra in our room and, in fact, we purged a chair, some pictures, candles and other “things”.  We also replaced the dingy, four-kids-and-a-dog, white carpet (not our choice) for a yummy chocolate flecked, low nap piece that will wear much better.

It was a great exchange and reminds me of my latest edit project.  Getting rid of favorite words, phrases and scenes can be extremely difficult.  Obviously I wrote them for a reason.  I loved them.  I wanted to keep them forever.  But somewhere along the way, they got worn out. 

Like the carpet, they didn’t withstand multiple readings.  They became faded and matted down.  No longer exciting to walk on.  Chapters became catch-alls for extra words like our dressers collecting trinkets.  Shiny baubles that we thought spruced up the place.  In reality, they did nothing but clutter.

Thanks to two outstanding critiquers, she-who-shall-remain-nameless and my cyber buddy, my chapter book manuscript has been pared down to the essentials.  I ditched the pretty baubles and replaced them with strong, active words that moved the story along. 

Monday I finished up my “final” edit and have since fallen in love with my story all over again.  Just in time.  An agent I queried last spring requested a full.  To non-writers, that means, the agent wants to read the entire manuscript before deciding whether he/she wants to represent it.  It’s a huge step in the endless cycle of submissions. 

So how can we ensure our manuscripts have clean, uncluttered lines?  In theory, the process is simple.  In practice, it can be hard–if only because parting with things we created can be gut-wrenching.  Here’s how I edit.

  1. Print out a paper copy of the rough draft and attack it.  I cut entire chapters, add new ones and generally do a lot of road work–filling in plot holes and connecting the story arc to make sure my road gets from point A to point B.
  2. Fix story discrepencies, fill out characters, watch for typos (always) and pay attention to things like pet words (that, suddenly, etc), dialogue tags (adding action rather than he sighed, she harrumphed) and weak verbs (replacing was going with things like ran, trudged and snuck).  Beta readers are helpful at this stage.
  3. Read the manuscript from front to back to “listen” with my reader’s ear. 
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until I have replaced my old and ratty manuscript for a shiny, new one.

How do you exchange your rough draft for a clean-lined, ready to submit manuscript?  What kinds of things do you find cluttering up your metaphorical dresser?  What wears down your writing like foot-traffic on a carpet?

Happy editing~ cat

P.S. As a side note, agents and editors are like interior decorators–no matter how perfect our manuscripts might seem to us, they have an eye for finding a better color combo, a great accent piece and the forgotten plot bunnies hiding under the bed.

22 responses to “Clean Lines-in books and in bedrooms

  1. Sounds good.
    It’s really hard to clean out the clutter, but well worth it!

  2. I also print out my MS and attack it with a pen. I find this method cathartic. Then, after an edit or two, it’s off to my writing group before it’s edited again and probably again. I like to make a master synopsis and time line just so I can make sure every event happens when it’s supposed to, and I don’t have a 36hr day anywhere.

    • LOL, Barbara. Those extended days would be nice as a writer, but can be killers in a manuscript!

      How many are in your writer’s group? I think they are so important in the editing process. It’s nice to have an extra set of eyes or two to help find the problem areas.


      • We have 6 people in our group, including me, and we’ve got a fairly wide range of genres, which I like. It’s not only extra eyes, but extra perspectives, which is nice.

      • Barbara, it sounds like you have the best of both worlds. My writer’s groups have always been small due to my location. It’s nice to have input from all types of writers and readers. Very nice.

  3. Congratulatons! Anytime an agent requests the full manuscript, it’s time to celebrate. It means you have a good idea and you presented it well in your pitch or query letter. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you’ll next be announcing you have an agent.

  4. Congrats on the request! How exciting. Do let us know how it goes. 🙂

    • TK, I will. This agent certainly makes my top tier, even though I’ve been warned by other writers to start at the bottom and work my way up. After submitting to his agency, I had the honor of hearing him speak at a conference. It just solidifies my desire to land him.

  5. Your agent news sounds very promising! I’ll keep my fingers crossed!

    As to drafts… my biggest problem is that my first draft is always way too complicated. My main job in the second draft is making things more clear – especially motivations, what people do and the knock-on effects. The language also needs attention, of course, but that’s the easiest thing to fix. I think I need to swap my brain for one that is far less complicated!

    • Roz,

      Untangling complicated plot lines doesn’t sound like much fun. Most of my manuscripts to date have been pretty easy that way. My NaNo one sounds like a spider’s web waiting to be unraveled. I may have to pick your brain along the way on how you manage to do it so well!

  6. Congrats on the full! Fingers crossed for you!

  7. Woohoo! Congrats on the request – that’s SO exciting!! I’ll cross a bunch of stuff for you.

    I never print out anything – I do all my editing on the laptop. I’d drop the sheaf of papers for sure and have to reorder them 🙂

    • Jemi,

      How in the world do you get by without a hard copy? I am such a visual person that I get distracted by the computer screen. I need clean, white paper and a very red pen!

      Thanks for the crosses…

  8. Congratulations on the full! Love the cleaning out of trinkets, matted down carpets and stuffed closets as metaphors for editing.

    I’m in the developing stages of a new story while my Guardian Cats are waiting in the wings. This time around I’m trying to ‘road map’ my story better so when I actually get around to writing it, I’ll won’t get distracted and turn down a bunch of dead end roads.

    Metaphorically speaking, of course. :o)

    • Rahma,

      Your new project sounds fun. This one has people in it doesn’t it? Good luck on the road map. I have tried several times to do that and have always failed miserably. I can’t seem to write my own books, my characters want to do all the work–distractions and all.

      Thanks for the warm wishes. It would be nice to start the new decade out one step closer to a career!

  9. Editing your own work is always painful. Having one or two persons who can give you helpful feedback is invaluable. My wife is such a person and I don’t take her for granted. I like what Stephen King said in a book he wrote about writing, ‘take out what is not the story.’ It is not easy to do. And an outsider is a much better position to tell you that. I have one test: if you take something out of your story(poem or whatever) and you do not miss it, it did not belong there. The beauty of a well written piece is what is left out–like a beautiful piece of music where every note counts. You do not want to discourage the reader with clutter. You want every word to count. Having said that, it is not easy to do. A good editor is worth their weight in gold.

    • Siggy,

      Thanks for stopping by with a comment. You are very lucky to have such a wonderful Beta Reader in your wife. You’re right when you say a good editor is worth their weight in gold. I’d add that Beta Readers are as well.

      Sometimes taking it out is the hard part. Once a phrase or passage is gone, we can get a better understanding of whether it fits or not. Deciding if it needs the test is another thing all together!

      I like this phrase of yours: The beauty of a well written piece is what is left out.

      That’s great insight.

  10. Cat,
    I’m spending my Saturday evening reading writing blogs and I was delighted to come across yours! I have a major weakness for metaphors and liked your approach to a cleaner look.
    I, too, like to print out my work and then sit down like some creative carver and take out what isn’t needed, but it is heart-wrenching at times! What’s really hard is when you have a great turn of a phrase (I do believe books are memorable for their characters’ ways of putting things) and it’s part of a scene that really has to go. I’ll find a way, though, to squirrel it away for use later..
    Thank you for your inspiration and much luck to you on the full. Let us know how things go for you!

    • Julie,

      Thank you so much for your kind words. It is readers like you who inspire me to write. Metaphors rock my world. I’m sure my kids think I’m nuts, but they seem to follow me okay!

      Like you, I find it sad to say goodbye to some things. For me it is mostly my character’s dialogue and wit. However, since we can’t keep everything, we do have to let it go…at least for the moment.

      Thanks again for stopping by and commenting.

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