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Thursday, July 05, 2012

10 Tips to Clean Up Your Writing

It’s easy to let your writing go and have projects pile up. Here are 10 easy things you can do to clear some space on your desktop.  

10. Keep it simple
You have many ongoing writing projects. Prioritize and be realistic.  

9. Break it down
Do you need to brainstorm a new story? Have you left a protagonist dangling? Do you have a percolating editing project? Break your tasks into chunks. One week, brainstorm; the next, rescue your protag. Then edit. Trying to do it all at once will paralyze.  

8. Make time
Finding time to write can be tough—especially for this editor. Pick a time that works for you—and stick to it. If you use a day planner or online calendar, schedule your writing time. Treat it like work; that’s what it is.  

7. Baby steps
Key writing tasks include brainstorming, researching, spewing (first draft), polishing, editing, praying, and sending. Wherever you are, divide that step into smaller steps. Interview one character. Outline (if you do that) one chapter. Write one paragraph. Then do it again. Put one foot in front of the other until the task is done.  

6. Start somewhere
Frustration mounts when what you’re working on is not working. So write your ending instead. If you don’t know the end, skip to the next chapter and move the story forward from there. Or polish what you have written. Just start. (Need an impartial review?)  

5. Clear the clutter
Maybe this means clearing your desktop (real world or computer). But, it could also mean going through your idea file and deleting ones that no longer flip your switch. The upside? It might remind you of an idea you’ve wanted to pursue.  

4. Recycle
Remember that character you spent so much time developing for Book 3 only to find he didn’t really fit the revised premise? Rename him and bring him back in Book 5. Maybe he didn’t fit Book 3 because you wanted him to be a second fiddle when he’s clearly a leading man.

3. Finish
Do you have a novel going, a couple magazine articles, a speaking engagement, and—what was that fourth thing? Oh, right, your spouse’s birthday! Forget multi-tasking—it doesn’t work! Instead, prioritize and finish one project at a time. When other projects intrude, whip out a sticky-note—write the idea down—then get back on task.

2. Keep track
Listing what you have accomplished in your writing is a great morale booster. You may not have finished Chapter 8, but you did resolve that hole in your plot in Chapter 6. Keep track, then when you get to the end of the day and feel you’ve accomplished nothing, you’ll know better.

1. Give yourself credit
Congratulate—and reward—yourself for what you do accomplish. M&Ms aren’t just for toilet training, you know.

Writing consists of many related tasks. Consistently and conscientiously cleaning out your writing life can be exciting, invigorating, and ultimately, rewarding.

Michael Ehret loves to play with words and as editor of the ACFW Journal, he is enjoying a new playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor/writer at and as a contributor here on Novel Rocket. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.


  1. Great steps, Mike! Sometimes that huge pile is intimidating.

  2. Thanks for #6! As a newbie, I have been trying to write TOWARD the next big plot point, waiting for my characters to develop to where they'll do something exciting. It's like watching them do laundry.
    I shall start a fresh page and plunge into the next major scene, then go back later to connect the dots. Yes?

  3. All excellent tips, Michael, and I especially like #3 and #1. Thanks for such an encouraging post.

  4. Thanks so much for this! My whole day went great today- I wrote down "Forget multi-tasking it doesn't work!" And actually finished an illustration of a horse. Maybe my floundering days are over : ) Now to move on to a story. I'm a huge fan of little chocolate rewards.

  5. Ane, Tommie, Janice, Beth, Karen,

    Sorry I was non responsive today. It was my birthday and I was celebrating!

    Janice, I think #6 was the hardest for me to learn. I am SOTP--so the stories unfolds before me. If that's how I write, then how can I skip ahead? Well, just know it's possible. And then, yes, connect the dots.

    Beth, you're welcome!

    Karen, multi-tasking is a lie of the devil to keep you from getting things done. Chocolate rewards are bite-sized motivation.

    1. Happy Birthday, Michael :~D I celebrated mine on the 4th. What a great month to be born into ;~D

      Great list to help writer's clean up their act.

      Until I'd recently simplified [#10] I was feeling paralyzed [#9] and frustrated [#6].

      #6: "Frustration mounts when what you’re working on is not working." Especially when an editor shows interest and you want to pound it out. Stepping away from the situation isn't always easy, not for me at least, but has proven to be helpful.

  6. I will put this on my list to read ... kidding! Thank you - great advice from an overworked writer and editor.

  7. I'm juggling a ton, plus book promotion right now. At the end of the promo period, it will be such a relief. Thanks for this.


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