I’ve been thinking about a lot of stuff lately. And by stuff, I mean the clutter that can be found in (or, to be more accurate, spilling out of) every cupboard, drawer, shelf, and corner of my house, in spite of my best intentions and innumerable trips to Goodwill.
I am on a mission to get rid of it. I firmly believe that we were not created to own a lot of things. In fact, there seems to be a direct correlation between the amount of stuff in my house and the almost tangible weight pressing down on my shoulders. A weight that lifts with every box and bag that goes out the door.
I’ve often said that what I need is to go away for a week or two and have someone come into my house, someone who isn’t as emotionally attached as I am to the crocheted toilet paper roll cover or boxes of puzzles and games (missing pieces do mysteriously appear sometimes, it could happen) and who could go through the place like Danny Ocean and his 11 accomplices cleaning out a safe. I’m sure I would never know what had been taken or miss a single item of it.
The rule of purging, apparently, is to only have things in your house that you know to be beautiful or believe to be useful. (Warning: do not attempt to apply this principle to the people in your house, endless problems could ensue.)
The same is true in writing. Unnecessary details, over-explaining and/or endless, monotonous dialogue weigh down the story, sometimes to the point of burying it entirely under mounds of excessive wording.
Just as it is important to occasionally go through drawers and cupboards to get rid of anything that hasn’t seen the light of day in years, so it is imperative to read over your work, ruthlessly cutting out and tossing anything you find that doesn’t have to be there, and that only adds heaviness and clutter to the manuscript.
Ask yourself as you read each chapter, or even as you read each sentence or word: is this useful? Does this provide a function in the novel? Does it move the story along? If not, does it add beauty to the scene, which can be (although it is not always, still try to err on the side of sparseness and simplicity) a legitimate reason to keep it in.
Like decluttering your home, decluttering your manuscript can be a daunting task. But the feeling of lightness—in your psyche and in your manuscript—that is the inevitable result is always worth the effort.
Sara Davison has been a finalist for three national writing awards: Best New Canadian Christian Author; Best Column – Single; and Best Novel – Mystery or Suspense. Davison is a member of three different writers’ groups, two of which she helped to found. Her favourite way to spend the days (and nights) is drinking coffee – a running theme throughout her novels – and making stuff up.
Visit Sara’s website: Choose to Press On
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