5 Bloomin’ Rules for Spring-Cleaning Your Overwintered Manuscript

Firstly, apologies for mixing my metaphors in the title, but it’s called blogging. Secondly, don’t take that apology seriously, because as you know, I’m not the type to truly be sorry. Also, it’s highly likely that you’re going to find further mixed metaphors in this post. Try to enjoy them.

You Don’t Usually Get This Belligerent So Early In A Post, Tara

True. But you know, reasons.

5 Blooming Rules for Spring-Cleaning Your Overwintered Manuscript

In December I told you that I was going to have to change to blogging on Sundays, because my professional life was changing. I didn’t say any more than that, because like most writers, I like creating mystery and suspense where there is none.

What I really meant was that I was starting a new day job. I suspected my new job would be approximately 242% more demanding than my old job. I was wrong. The figure is 864.7%. To put it bluntly, my new employer owns my posterior. My home has basically become a hotel room, because I only sleep there.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking for sympathy: it’s a better job than the chronically annoying one I had, and it was high time I moved. But the novel I began last year with such enthusiasm had to go into a big black cave, like a big black 55,000-word bear, to sleep its face off for the winter.

The thing is, it’s been a bloody long winter in Ireland. (The sun came out this weekend, but now they’re saying the snow might come back for Easter.) So while I was taking full advantage of the temporary temperature reprieve, elbow-deep in leaf matter in my teeny tiny garden yesterday, it occurred to me that it was time to wake my MS up too.

With that thought, every little snip and swish began to translate into a booky action, which in turn morphed into a blog post. And because my new job has taken some of the fun out of my life, and because I like being awkward, I decided to take some of the fun out of this exercise by making some bossy rules about it.

5 Blooming Rules for Spring-Cleaning Your Overwintered Manuscript

1. Explore Every Single Corner

The whole point of spring-cleaning is to clean stuff which never gets cleaned normally when you’re cleaning. (I’m sure that’s the textbook definition.) Curtain rails; the cupboard under the sink; the extractor fan in the bathroom which is covered in grey gunk you really don’t want to think about.

Writing is no different. Think about those bits you normally gloss over when you’re reading back. You’re thinking: Well, I’m going to have to rewrite Chapter 1, that’s for sure. Once I get that fixed, the rest of the opening will work, right?

Wrong. Chapter 2 sucks, I’m afraid. And 70% of the time, it can be cut in its entirety. The same goes for the character you only wrote in for comedy; the incident you wrote which showed how your character reacted under stress, but didn’t have anything to do with the plot; and that entire dialogue on page 60 which could actually be summarised into one sentence and which you’ve also only just now realised is the worst case of telling-not-showing since Butler’s Lives Of The Saints.

2. Cut Off All The Dead Stuff

ALL the dead stuff. It doesn’t matter if it’s not doing any harm where it is. It still needs to come out.

The whole point of doing this exercise is that you’re not supposed to have to do it again any time soon. So if it’s dead, and you can see that now because you’ve had a break from it, and if you don’t get rid of it immediately, you’ll end up putting it in front of some reader somewhere who will eventually say “Hey, look at this dead thing. What’s it doing here?”

5 Blooming Rules for Spring-Cleaning Your Overwintered Manuscript

3. Be Brutal, Even With Green Shoots (If They’re Going Off In The Wrong Direction)

So it’s Spring – yay, etc – and you’re thinking that things are really growing now, and you shouldn’t cut things which might be in the process of budding or shooting or forming spores which will be the scourge of hay-fever sufferers everywhere.

It’s true – they might actually be growing. But that doesn’t mean you need them. If it’s unsightly, and the rest of the plant wouldn’t die if you cut it off, then it should generally come off.

When you’ve been away from your book for a while, you see these frivolities for what they are. And that’s why you have to take advantage of the sleeping bear, by getting rid of this stuff before he wakes up properly and starts messing with your head and growling at you again in his big bear voice to keep EVERYTHING because YOU WROTE IT and IT’S IMPORTANT. Grrrrrrr.

4. If There’s A Gap, Plant Something New

Perhaps you might have gone nuts with the pruning shears, in a fit of fervent clarity. Perhaps, upon stepping back from it once again, there’s a big hole where the scraggly weed thing was. You might call that a gap. I say it’s an opportunity.

More often than not, when you’re editing, you get an idea for what might look better than the thing you’re taking out. And do you know what you should do with ideas? WRITE THEM.

5. Keep Watering And Feeding The Bloody Thing

So what do you do, now that this mammoth task has been done?

Unfortunately for you, this is where we deviate from gardening or spring cleaning, which once done, can be walked away from with a great sense of accomplishment. Because you’re not done.

You now have to take your manuscript, and start writing it again. Cultivate more words and ideas which may well grow and grow, clinging onto every available surface until perhaps they too die, and need to be cut out.

But you can’t edit a blank page, you’ve got to have something to work with, next springtime, after your manuscript comes out of its next hibernation.

So go on – make a mess. That’s art, after all. Right?

  35 comments for “5 Bloomin’ Rules for Spring-Cleaning Your Overwintered Manuscript

  1. March 25, 2018 at 10:19 am

    Or.. For the sake of completeness, you could take my approach to spring cleaning, and just give everything a quick go with the hoover, and ignore the dust mice building whole communites behind the TV. Lalala, not looking…

    It’s an option…

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 25, 2018 at 12:06 pm

      No, Al, I’m afraid it isn’t an option, because that is not the definition of spring cleaning, at all. I think you’ll find that’s the textbook definition of ‘a lick and a promise’, and if you think that’s spring cleaning, then you have more problems than being a writer justifies. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 25, 2018 at 12:20 pm

        Wow…this has been a Sunday morning of discovery for me. Am wondering now what else I’ve been licking and promising… 🤔

        Liked by 1 person

        • March 25, 2018 at 12:25 pm

          That might be a private matter, Al.

          Liked by 1 person

          • March 25, 2018 at 12:29 pm

            Bloggers have no “private matters”. Only material for future posts (with an addition of a suitable layer of lies to make me seem funnier/cleverer/less weird)

            Liked by 2 people

  2. March 25, 2018 at 10:49 am

    Nothing important to add to the wisdom here, about the writing that is. In my home, cleaning in whatever season revolves more around blame than the job itself. My lovely wife has this THING about HOW to do a job, so just to be on the safe side whenever she comes home with Genna I’ll yell out “I vacuumed the living room!” before I say “hey, welcome back” because otherwise there’s a chance she’ll plonk down her purse, cluck tongue and just start in again.

    On the other hand, my go-to comment is that any given discovery of mess is most likely the cats’ fault. It has a ring to it, because after all there are six, and the added advantage of any moment my lovely wife spends defending their innocence is another moment she cannot use to show me HOW to blow even more time and effort than before, cleaning things that really have no business being cleaned ever in the first place.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 25, 2018 at 12:10 pm

      Hmmm. I see your approach, Will, but the fatal flaw may be the same as my husband’s, for when he says “I DID THE THING!! TELL ME THANK YOU AND I’M GREAT FOR DOING THE THING!!!”, all that goes through my mind is: “what about the 100 times a year I do the thing and nobody bloody notices, let alone thanks me?”

      Even six cats can’t survive that logic. You might bear that in mind for any future greeting strategies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 25, 2018 at 1:24 pm

        Oh absolutely right, Ms. Sparling. I never seek gratitude for my chores, only the pleasure of not seeing my lovely wife do the job straight on top of it. Because as sharp as she is to see my work has not been done, she’s absolutely blind to the fact that it has. ::Kirk voice:: Just. Don’t.Clean.The-thing.I.Already.Cleaned, dear God.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. March 25, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    Just did an hour or two of actual spring cleaning yesterday… it was horrible! Now I’m thinking about my last batch of edits… did I miss that awful patch of black mould in my manuscript? I’m hoping I got well rid of it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 25, 2018 at 7:29 pm

      Oh, dear, Lisa. Black mould in the manuscript sounds VERY familiar. I think we’re going to have to get the chemicals out…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. March 25, 2018 at 4:45 pm

    Whoa, Tara! LOL 😛 I’m currently skipping out (literally) my bedroom and there’re horrid things EVERYWHERE that don’t even have the grace to hide away out of sight – I’m talking cobwebs from hell here in plain view, hanging in festoons from the picture frames!

    I’m a clutterphile – I love cheek by jowl dysfunctional storage dumps, so vigorous spring cleaning of anything, but especially ‘precious’ things like back-burner WIPs is almost a sacrilege. 😦 However, once I do get the ‘use or chuck’ sorting head on I can get quite ruthless. Hence the skip for the bedroom refurb, because I neeeeed to make room for new clutter storage! 😉

    I have a manuscript spring clean that’s lurking on the heels of the ‘new’ bedroom, so I’m hoping that the ‘let it go & fill the gaps wisely’ approach will be easy to roll on with for that area of my life… And recycling is good for the planet! 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 25, 2018 at 7:33 pm

      Amen to that, Jan! And don’t forget – for indie authors especially – some things which drop onto the cutting room floor can become special extras or even novellas later 😀 Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. March 25, 2018 at 7:53 pm

    Love this! It’s just what I’m doing now and a manuscript that’s been tormenting me all winter, and am finding it, well, exhilarating. Like I’m blooming and growing. Or something. Anyway, thanks for the great metaphor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 25, 2018 at 10:37 pm

      I’m finding your enthusiasm a motivating factor, Shelley, so thank you too!


  6. March 25, 2018 at 11:01 pm

    This post made me think of a passage I wrote with ocher on a bear cave wall, during the 2009 Little Ice Age in Ireland. (‘ “The meaner you are to roses, the better they like it.” Kind of like a certain Irishman that I know. She suppressed a smirk….’)

    If my tiny readership wasn’t made up entirely of people in your huge readership, I’d re-blog this one. As it is, I’ve saved a copy for posterity (and to remind me what to do when the new bear comes out of its cave).

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 26, 2018 at 12:04 am

      Glad to leave something for posterity, Christine. And if I were you, I’d be even tougher on bears than on roses. After all, a rose only blooms for a little while, whereas bears can hibernate through anything.

      (Okay. I think I need to work that one out a little more. Even I have to admit sometimes that mixed metaphors can go too far. 😀 )


  7. March 25, 2018 at 11:48 pm

    Rather serious recommendations here, Tara. That’s not like you. (lol). I was recently chopping the dead wood from my manuscript, accidentally picked up a chapter I’d already pruned and started trimming. That was a little discouraging. Time for another pass… and then another one. I’m glad your job is working out even if it’s a bear and keep making time to write!

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 26, 2018 at 12:05 am

      No, it’s not like me at all, Diana! I have to be careful with thoughts which might actually prove useful. People might start expecting this sort of thing all the time, and then where would I be? I mean, if I can’t write utter rubbish on my own site, where are the contents of my brain supposed to go??

      Liked by 2 people

  8. March 26, 2018 at 2:28 pm

    I don’t know. I inspected my floorboards and the hard to reach corners of my house and have come to the conclusion that burning it all down and rebuilding from scratch may be less time-consuming.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 26, 2018 at 4:47 pm

      True, Allie. Not to mention the fact that it also sounds like bags more fun. But hey, it’s your house, your decision.

      Just make sure to put the pics up online….

      Liked by 1 person

  9. March 26, 2018 at 2:53 pm

    I’m so sorry for your posterior, Tara. You’ve been watching Stormy’s performance on 60 Minutes, haven’t you?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. March 26, 2018 at 4:31 pm

    I feel like I’m going through this very process right now, Tara. Hopefully I can put it back in its cave in a week or so and leave it there for another winter just to repeat the process in 12 months…

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 26, 2018 at 4:50 pm

      NO, Graham. KEEP THE BEAR OUT OF THE CAVE. I REPEAT. CAVE BEAR OUT. I mean, if it worked for Jean M. Auel…

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 27, 2018 at 12:13 pm

        Okay. If you say so. And there was me hoping I could go back to enjoying life for a few months!

        Liked by 1 person

        • March 27, 2018 at 8:17 pm

          Why anyone would come here thinking they might leave to enjoy anything I just don’t know. But people must live in hope, I suppose.


  11. March 26, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    I know you’re right, but I do wonder if there will be anything left.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. March 27, 2018 at 11:19 am

    The new job sounds rough on spare time. Hope you can carve some out for your work and enjoy it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 27, 2018 at 12:08 pm

      Also am just about to delete a whole chapter about a party on the night of the Armistice where our heroine gets silly drunk on illegal absinthe. I enjoyed writing it so much! ::sob::

      Liked by 1 person

      • March 27, 2018 at 8:21 pm

        Ooooh, are you killing your darlings, Susan? Ouch.

        A less painful method which works for me – but unfortunately takes longer – is to highlight what I think will have to go, stare and frown at it for ages until I cave in, thinking ‘maybe it’s fine where it is’. Then I walk away and leave it for another month or so. By the time I come back to delete it, I’m wondering what took me so long. 😛


  13. carolannwrites
    March 28, 2018 at 10:30 am

    Perfect timing. Thank you. I think. 😉
    Out it comes and out they go.


  14. April 2, 2018 at 4:07 pm

    I think it might take a very significant change in the weather (snowing here…again) to ramp up my enthusiasm. Thought a wee break in the sun might do it but the anticipated sun turned in storms and endless days of howling gales and lashing rain. So any serious writing or revamping is on hold until we actually get some warmish spring weather. That’s my excuse anyway. Meanwhile I’m gorging myself on books others have written, occasionally asking myself what makes them so successful, and how they fiffer from my efforts. It’s sobering.

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 2, 2018 at 10:32 pm

      Sounds like you might need some time in the cave yet, Dorothy! Spring is indeed a shy customer this year. This kind of environment is sobering, but don’t forget that the sun always comes out eventually, whether it wants to or not.


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