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Thursday, February 07, 2013

Spring Cleaning? 10 Tips for Writers

I know it’s only February, but in my office that’s when I start thinking about Spring Cleaning. Why so early? Because I hate the process, even though it is vital to the smooth operation of my freelance editing business. If I don’t start early to think and plan for it, procrastination will win the day. So, maybe you’re like me? Here are 10 tips to clean out the cobwebs in your writing:  

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 week, rescue your protag. Then edit.

8. Make Time Finding time to write can be tough. 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. One thing I’m going to try this year is the Pomodoro Method, where you work solid on a project for 25 minutes and then take a five minute break.

7. 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.

6. 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.

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? 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. Instead, prioritize and finish one project at a time. When other projects intrude, whip out a sticky-note—write the idea down—and 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, like spring cleaning, 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 his playground. He also plays with words as a freelance editor at, where he often takes a writer Into The Edit, pulling back the veil on the editing process. He has edited several nonfiction books, played with words as a corporate communicator, and reported for The Indianapolis Star.


  1. Thanks Michael,

    I promise to get organized this weekend. I've been fighting a virus and have lugged my laptop to the warmest place in the house instead of my usual work area.

    I'll organize and then write.

    Have a great weekend.

    1. Jackie,

      Good for you! If you do, you'll beat me by weeks! LOL.

  2. Good post and timely. I'm in organization mode! Thanks, Mike.

    1. "Timely" -- was that a pun, Marian? LOL

  3. I like #3. Some days it feels good to touch on several WIP, but right now, I am challenging myself to stick with editing my third novel. Get 'er done!!

    Thanks for the post!

    1. I find I get much more done if I focus on one project for at least 2-3 hours before moving to another. I do, like you, enjoy bopping between opportunities, but I used to do it on whim ... and was getting nowhere fast on all of my projects.

  4. By the way, today is the first day I have tried the Pomodoro method mentioned in the post ... it has worked pretty well. But I do find myself checking the countdown to see how close I am to another break. Ha!

    Hope that will change as I use it more and it becomes less of a novelty.

  5. Thanks for the tips! I emailed a link for this blog post to my ACFW writing group. This post may offer the boost many of us need!

  6. Avery, Thanks for that! Say "hi!" to your group for me ... I love ACFW! ( It's done a world of good for me.

  7. Okay Michael, I think I'm organized.

    My office is a nice space in the basement. The only thing I think I need is some warm fuzzy shoes.

    Thanks for the motivation.

  8. Great! It's funny but before I sat down to my computer, I thought I would tackle a bit of the clutter around the door leading into the garage. I can do it in small bites but occasionally I like to swallow it whole like a kid in the halloween candy.

  9. This is really very helpful. Most people are afraid of writing because they do not know when and how to start.

  10. Spring cleaning time can be a time to organize and go through your life, not just your house. Thanks for sharing these tips.


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