Are you a word hoarder?
Recently I’ve become hooked on reality shows such as Hoarders and Peter Walsh’s Enough Already. Now, I’m not a hoarder and though I am constantly battling clutter (aren’t all writers?) it has never reached epic proportions.
But, writers often hoard their words, cluttering up their prose with verbiage that either doesn’t serve their story or message, or that actually detracts from their writing. Telling them to let go of their words is like telling a hoarder that she really doesn’t need the fondue pot “just in case.” So how do you stop yourself from becoming the literary equivalent of a crazy cat lady?
5 steps to clear clutter from your writing
1. Step away from the manuscript
The hardest time to let go of writing that doesn’t serve us is when it’s fresh in our minds. We’re too close to the creative process, and our words are like tiny baby birds; we feel protective of them. When you let your manuscript get cold, you tend to forget the struggle that went into crafting each sentence and better able to assess what should stay and what should go.
2. Read your words aloud
Do they fall trippingly off the tongue — or are they tripping up your tongue? When we read silently, it’s easy to glide over unnecessary words. But when we speak, clunky language and unnecessary words proclaim themselves loudly.
3. Do a clutter assessment
Circle all the words that are not vital to conveying your message. Be ruthless. We’re not getting rid of anything just yet; we’re just questioning, “Do I really need this word, phrase or sentence for the meaning to be clear?” “Is it slowing down the pace of the story?” “Can I say the same thing in fewer words?”
4. Learn to let go
Every organizational expert will tell you that if something no longer serves you, get rid of it. That means not clinging to words, phrases, sentences — even whole passages that you fell in love with as you were writing. Like that pink cashmere sweater you looked great in — 20 pounds and 10 years ago, it may be hard to part with the memories associated with the item, but letting go is necessary for growth. When you allow yourself to ditch words you slaved over to create in a first draft, but now realize don’t deserve the real estate they’re taking up, you begin to open up space for deeper, more meaningful writing.
5. Enjoy your newfound “space”
My favorite part of these TV shows is when the people first re-enter their now clutter-free space. It’s life transforming. Once you’ve learned to let go of unnecessary words, you’ll find yourself transformed as a writer, too. You’ll learn to love the elegance of a well-crafted sentence, and you’ll find yourself naturally opting for sharp, spare prose.
And your writing will be the better for it.