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.
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.
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?”
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?