Wednesday, August 24, 2011

De-cluttering: a Writing Metaphor

Pic from this site about sorting through precious memories

Last night, my husband and I took everything out of our sons' bedroom closet and put it in the living room. This led to several hours of reminiscing (aww!) and trashing (why am I keeping this?) and repackaging (maybe these four little boxes of 'baby clothes 6-9 months' could go into one big box). This morning after the boys woke up, we went in and replaced their closet storage with the new and improved closet storage - stuff we can access more easily now that we know exactly where everything is and what its future purpose is. And there's markedly less junk in there.

So let's go back and look at those steps again, this time with an eye on your completed manuscript:


Aww! Remember that really quippy comeback Secondary Character said to other Secondary Character? Or that heart-rending description of the sun setting behind the mushroom cloud in the middle of the ocean? That needs to be framed or put into a photo album or something.

Or maybe we should let it go. (I'm looking at you, movie stub from five years ago!)


Why am I even keeping all these extra adverbs? And that's and then's? I know I talk about using them, but I never actually get around to it. They just take up space!


This characterization/important revelation isn't shining through with the current scene/plot arc. Hmm, wonder how I could put it so it's easier for readers to access...

See? Easy as cleaning your closet. 

But since neither of those activities is actually easy, here are a few rules of thumb when reminiscing about, trashing, and repackaging your word clutter.

  • Reminisce: Take criticism but follow your heart. You really don't want to regret throwing away those baby booties your grandmother made just because somebody said the colors looked like throw-up. And if you can frame your favorite parts so they stand out more, do it!
  • Trash: If you can read the sentence and it means the same wonderful thing without [deleted word], trash it! This is usually true of any then, that, and sentences that begin with conjunctions (another kryptonite for me).
  • Repackage: It's so tough to take everything out and put it back together in a neater package, but it's also the most important thing we can do for our stories. Try doing what you do with your boxes. If you take something out, put it in a pile/category (maybe in an outline or on note cards), and when the story is totally deconstructed, put them back in the way they should go. 
Most importantly, don't do it alone. Having somebody to run things past ("Honey, do you still use this shoe polish from ten years ago?") can really speed things up and keep things neat.

Happy de-cluttering!


  1. Great metaphor, Katrina, and a lot of helpful tips! You already know that the adverbs are what get me the most. But reminiscing can also be was so hard to throw away my prologue and completely rewrite my beginning, because they were the children of the first time I put pen to paper on this project. Ah well, I can throw out that old dress and get one that actually fits me now! lol (just trying to go with your metaphor ;p)

  2. Love it! I am decidedly ANTI-clutter. I cannot sit through an episode of Horders without cleaning during the commercials. I never thought about decluttering my WIP. This is genius Katrina :)

  3. Such good advice! I love metaphors! I dread the de-cluttering part of when I get to it but it's so nice when it's done! Ah! You can breathe again!

  4. This is so true! I always have scenes I love and cling to way too long, even though I know they need to go. Great post!


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