Monday, April 28, 2014

Bright Idea #65: Spring Clean Your Writing

Moving is an excellent way to sort through the stuff you’ve been unable to part with and probably don’t remember that you own.  Cleaning out your closets motivates generosity.  At the end of a yard sale I’ve been known to get very generous – like buy one get one and here take another.  I exercised that generosity last weekend at the family yard sale.

My in-laws are moving to Florida.  Tim’s parents are going from a four bedroom house to a home half as large.  Just getting ready for a yard sale requires a lot of time, energy, and discipline to separate what goes into the trash bin, the giveaway bin, and the sell-at-the-yard sale bin. 

After we got home, I began to think.  What if writers did spring cleaning?  We could revisit those essays, ideas for books, odd paragraphs, random descriptions, and character studies that we took time to scribble down and file, but never used.  A trip down virtual memory lane could possibly give rise to new concepts and ideas.

With the aid of your trusty laptop, any writer in this electronic age can sort, store, giveaway, or trash files that God only knows why you wrote.  The character that didn’t fit into your short story might just tell his story in your next poem.  The description that you worked on for days but still wasn’t what you needed for the essay may prove to be the perfect lead-in for a magazine feature.  The book outline that was impossible to follow may need to be rearranged or purged completely.

The last example was from my writing this week and last.  Five chapters into the sequel to 13 Decisions That Will Change Your Life, I realized that the outline I created for the book was restrictive.  Not only that, but the chapters were not in a logical prioritized order.  So I did what any frustrated scribe would do.  I deleted it and began again.  The second outline had more intuition, direction, and less restrictive structure.  This is only after I ditched the entire first draft of the sequel and changed the subject altogether.  That’s okay. They are only words and I will use them elsewhere.

If you haven’t learned it already, you will.  A writer should always be flexible to change direction and willing to rewrite or start again.  A writing buddy confided that the book she had worked on for years languished in a drawer while she published other things.  Then one day with renewed vigor, Joan rewrote her novel in another point of view and sold it immediately.  Stories like that keep my hope alive.

It may take the passage of time before I am willing to change my words or “kill my little darlings” as Faulkner suggests, but sometimes I must.  It all comes down to what you, as a writer, want to accomplish.  If you want to publish, there are rules and processes that are necessary.  Editors differ.  Audiences vary. What one loves another hates. The same friend said her query letter was used as a model in one class while torn to shreds in another class.  Writing and publishing is subjective.  What is timely and appropriate today may not be next week.  Before 9/11 occurred, I mentioned terrorists in a humor piece.  I would never do that today.  That’s one that can go into the trash bin.  

The plus side of spring cleaning is that rare moment when you come across a clipping that is exceptional. You will smile and think, I wrote that.  You may not remember when, but it is yours just the same.  Those feelings and rush of emotion will all come back.

I remember distinctly gazing at the red and white diary of Anne Frank housed in a glass cabinet in Amsterdam.  When I reread the essay I wrote for Athens Magazine, the memories and tears all come back.

I remember interviews with Jack Davis, the cartoonist, and the tour he gave me of his studio.  I smile at the opportunities I have been granted through writing for the newspaper or for one of several magazines.  

Of course, primarily you provide entertainment and information for the reader.  But for yourself, you get to make and keep wonderful memories. Memories that you can experience over and over again as you spring clean your writing.

~~ Sheila Hudson

Sheila's work appears in Chocolate for a Woman's Soul series, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Patchwork Path, From the Heart, Vols. 1 & 2, plus numerous periodicals including Costumer Magazine. She established Bright Ideas to bring hope and inspiration through the written word.  Sheila has also served as president of Southeastern Writers Association.  Read more about Sheila on her website.

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