This spring my husband (and writing partner) and I took advantage of a beautiful and unusually warm May day and cleaned two years worth of bird droppings and green mold from the railings and edges of our Trek decking. Our deck is a three-level beauty, designed by me, the C of C.D. Hersh. The deck is a joy to sit on and a great place to entertain, but it’s a bear to clean. Last year we noticed the birds’ ‘gifts’ deposited on the railings and the mold creeping across the banisters, and meant to get out and take care of them, but other things got in the way. I got too busy, he worked too hard, it got too hot to work on the deck, and we were just too lazy.
In retrospect, we should have paid more attention to what was happening because a minor job turned into a major one while we whiled the summers away.
Today we spent about five hours cleaning the railings and about two feet around the lower two decks, scrubbing, rubbing and rinsing. I even had to do some spots with a toothbrush! We still have to clean the center of the two lower decks, the steps, and the balcony.
After dinner, while discussing the day’s work and blogging tonight, I remarked that cleaning the deck was a lot like revising a book—you have to take the time to get rid of all the crap you let accumulate.
I’m not saying our books, or even your books, are crap. But it’s so easy to get lazy and let a lot of stuff slip in like passive voice, adjectives, groaning dialogue tags, purple prose, slow pacing, and way too much back story, until, like the railings of my deck covered in bird droppings, you can no longer see the beauty of your original creation. I don’t know about you, but I hate revisions and I’d rather do everything I can to get my books as clean as possible the first go around.
So, here are a six tips we use to get the bird droppings out of our writing.
- Reread the previous days’ work. This not only gives us a fresh look at our writing but also helps get us back in the groove. If I’ve been away from my WIP more that few days I might even go back to the previous chapter. By revisiting each chapter I get a head start on the small revision stuff.
- Write with grammar check turned on. You can set grammar check to highlight a lot of things, but the most important use we have found is to highlight passive writing. Becoming attuned to those squiggle grammar check lines, makes the passive verbs very clear. A glance tells us where we need improvement in this area. Not every passive sentence can be revised into an active one, but many can and doing so will make your writing stronger.
- Do a search for “LY” on each chapter as you complete it. It’s amazing how many of those sneaky adjectives creep in.
- Look for long paragraphs. Too little white space on a page can often be a warning sign of heavy narrative, back story, or too much description.
- Check every page for tension. Donald Maas says we should have tension on every page. It doesn’t have to be bang ‘em up, slam ‘em up tension, but there needs to be something that keeps the story humming along.
- Do a check of dialogue. Are there too many “he saids” or “she saids.” Or are there too many lines with no dialogue or action tags? Have you gritted or laughed the dialogue? Teeth are gritted not words, and how in the world do you laugh words? I know I can’t.
These six items may seem like little steps toward revision, but sweating the small stuff now can make your major revisions easier. And who doesn’t want that?
What do you do as you write to help your revisions go faster?