Monday, May 13, 2024

When Writers Need to Do Some "Spring Cleaning" on Their Manuscript


by Larry J. Leech II @LarryJLeechII

Spring cleaning. I have been aware of the name and of the concept for pretty much most of my life. But, down home, in Florida, I never cleaned in the spring. 

If the driveway needed pressure-washed on December 15. Not a problem. Wash windows on January 3. Done. Fix a dead spot of grass in the yard on February 23. Sure. Let me run to Home Depot and get seed or a plug. 

However, now the concept and the idea of spring cleaning makes more sense now that I have endured my a few winters in South Carolina. After months of cold weather, at least for me, stuff looks “dirty.” Thresholds need cleaned. Windows need washed. The list goes on and on. 

All this got me to thinking the other day. We writers must “spring clean” our writing after pounding out the first draft. Just a word of caution, don’t spring clean (edit) during your first draft. Just get the story out. 

Spring cleaning the second, third, fourth drafts, maybe more, entails a lot of things. Working on dialogue, making setting and description clearer, checking for those pesky “to be” verbs, getting rid of “that” as much as possible, eliminating qualifiers, such as “quite, very, so.” And let’s not forget crutch words, which are different for each person. Another that I see often in every manuscript is the word “it.” Just make sure you don’t overuse the word and that it’s properly used. 

Those are just a few. Years ago, I created a list of words and phrases that hinder writing. I call this my Terrible 30. I work through this list every time I edit—either my own or for someone else. 

I also look for two other “spring cleaning” issues.

Dialogue tags in direct address between two people: 

“Mom, I don’t want to go to a private school,” Frank said, storming out of the room and yelling over his shoulder.” I want to stay in public school with my friends.”

Mom, hot on his heels, screamed back. “You’re going, Frank, and I don’t want to hear another word about it.”

In this example, you don’t need Frank or Mom in the dialogue. Both are just wasted words. 

Also, tags at the end of dialogue that show intensity or tone. When the tag is at the end of dialogue, we don’t read the dialogue the way it was intended. For instance:

“I made a hole in one. I made a hole in one.” Andrew jumped up and down on the tee box, screaming.

When we put the tag first or early in the dialogue, we read it as intended.

Screaming, Andrew jumped up and down on the seventeenth tee box at TPC Sawgrass. “I made a hole in one. I made a hole in one.”

Hopefully, you “hear” the difference there.

If you have questions about spring cleaning, or if you would like my Terrible 30, feel free to contact me. I’d be glad to help you clean—your manuscript. I don’t do windows.

TWEETABLE

Editor-in-Chief at Bold Vision Books and writing coach of award-winning authors, Larry J. Leech II has spent more than forty years writing and editing. He started his career as a sportswriter in southwestern Pennsylvania where he covered prep, college, and pro sports, including the Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers. 

In 2004, after 2,300 published articles, Larry moved into the book publishing industry. Since that time, he has ghostwritten 30 books, edited more than 400 manuscripts, and coached hundreds of authors through the writing and publication process. You can find him online on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

11 comments:

  1. Always enjoy your posts, Larry. I'd like to compare your terrible thirty to my list. Send it on to cindyhuff11atgmaildot com.

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    1. Thanks, Cindy. Appreciate the kind words. I'll be in touch with my Terrible 30.

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  2. Great post, Larry. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, Crystal! Hopefully something in it will help.

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  3. What is really tough is weeding our words like and, but, it, and the. These take a lot of hard work to replace during editing. But I'm glad my editor tasked me with doing that. No one ever said writing was easy ... unless they've never written a book.

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    1. Sounds like you have a good editor. And yes, those who have never written a book often think the process is easy.

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  4. Great article, Larry. I love your comparison of revising the draft with spring cleaning.

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    1. Thanks, Kay! Well, both were on my mind at the same time. :)

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  5. Thank you. I would appreciate your handout.
    pittsdiane22@yahoo.com

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    1. Larry J. Leech IIMay 13, 2024 at 4:14 PM

      My pleasure. I hope something I wrote will help you with your writing. I'll email my Terrible 30 in a few minutes.

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  6. Cathy BiggerstaffMay 13, 2024 at 4:30 PM

    Thanks, Larry! I would like your Terrible 30 List to share with my writer's group. Blessings to you! Send it to hiskid410@gmail.com

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