Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Cleaning Up as a Writer

Last Friday at 3:05PM, I reported to the twitterverse that my house was completely clean. I had mopped, vacuumed, dusted and windexed my backside off. By 3:15, two toddler toys had made their way to the middle of the TV room floor. At 4:00 my oldest sons got off the bus--and that's all she wrote.

Truth be told, however, I had left some dust on the fireplace grate. The substance settled in the bottom of my A/C vents could fertilize every wheat field in Kansas. And that waterproof eyeliner my youngest smeared all over the hall wall? Still there. Upon close inspection, I have to admit that at 3:05 last Friday, my house was not, in fact, as clean as it possibly could have been.

I am editing my WIP ("work in progress" for you new readers who want to learn the trendy jargon) and running into much the same problem. The words are spelled correctly now. The passive voice (actual passive voice, not just variations on "to be") has been made active (and yes, I do realize this was a passive-voice sentence). I cut almost all parenthetical statements (I do love me some parentheses . . . . and ellipses--and dashes!) The time line is clear, the story arc is solid . . .

. . . . and I want to throw this puppy out and start all over again (which would, in fact, make the fourth time I've done so).

How clean is clean? How finished is finished? If I told my husband, "We can't get the eyeliner off the wall, so let's tear down the house and rebuild it," he would lock me away in the mental institution I often fantasize about (seriously--sitting on a bench in front of manicured garden while pretty young women bring me cups of pills. Lovely!)

I'm not going to do that to WIP again, either.

How about you? Writers--when do you know your story is clean enough? Readers--do you ever get the feeling a writer has just tossed a book out there without swishing the metaphorical toilet first?


  1. I decide to quit cleaning my manuscript when I have decided torture by small knives or toothpicks to the eyeballs sounds better than looking at the thing one more time. Works for me. :)


  2. I know it's clean when I read through and don't find anything I want to change. :O) Very helpful, no? Typo's? Not that I'm seeing. Awkward sentences? Not that I can tell. A paragraph that's just not reading right? Nope. Not here. when I get there, then it's ready to go.

  3. I"m not sure it's ever ready. My novels are constantly in rotation, being passed from friend to eventual friend, and while they're reading, I'm submitting to Agents. Then they give them back and say "I loved it! Except there's a typo on page 32..." so I fix it and move on. What's the chance an Agent is going to accept it anyway? Oops. That's extremely negative. Sorry! What I meant was, there's probably lots of time for me to keep fixing things before I'm "discovered".

    What I found does the most for me, though, is reading my entire novel through, on my own, out loud. And as much as I can in one day.

    I just vacuumed and dusted and did the bathrooms, but I'll never get to it all. Whatevah. I do what I can!

  4. Clean? What means this word, "clean"?

    I never know when a story/book is finished. I always THINK I know--when it pleases me and I can read it through without sliding over a bit and convincing myself it's okay...really....

  5. Since you know me, I hardly need to point out that I NEVER consider my writing clean enough -- I just find new things to clean.

    Unlike my writing, my house is a stranger to the cleaning blitz. The Suzy Homemaker gene skipped me.

  6. So it seems we fall into two camps: Keri and Evelyn have clear-cut stopping points (I don't know, Evelyn--pointy things in the eyeballs will send me back to the laptop every time!) Marian swings this way, too, I think. Becke and Genevieve tend toward my end of the spectrum--get out that toothbrush and scrub the baseboards of the story.

    At some point, though, if we want to be on Oprah's bookclub show, we have to . . . Leap!

    (I am cracking myself up over here. It may simply be because I've deleted the words "just" and "again" from almost every use in my WIP, and thereby lost four pages).

  7. Keri you are so funny!! I find that when I clean up my WIP, I am looking for ing words-just like looking I typed. REDO- I look for 'ing' words. Shew...much better. I was told by a contest final judge I was 'ing' and 'that' way too much.
    Sometimes I have put the WIP away for a couple weeks b/c I tend to cut, cut, cut when cleaning. Cleaning doesn't mean butcher, does it?