Cleaning up

Taking out the trash – Tightening the writing

fossilized rock on a stump on an Oregon beach  Credit:  Theresa Duncan

Every Wednesday, I take the trash down the hill to the big can by the main road to be picked up Thursday morning. During the week, we store the trash in metal cans in the garage to keep black bear and other critters from being tempted to explore the menu.

Also each Wednesday, I work to clean up a piece of my writing, taking out the trash. I use the word search tool to find:

  • filler words (this that, there, here, etc.)
  • meaningless, cheap words (it, etc.)
  • overused words (the words I use too often, or “pet” words)
  • forms of “to be” verbs (is, am, are, was, were, be, been, being; see Some Choice Verbs)
  • repetitive phrases (similar to “pet” words)

If you have never worked this way on a piece of writing, this process may seem daunting. You may end up feeling like you should delete the entire work and start over – but do not do that. When I first began doing these types of edits, I was in grad school and began to feel like a fraud. I thought, “Someone has made a mistake by admitting me to a grad writing program. Look at all these mistakes! I am a fraud. I do not write well at all.” Those initial panic sessions taught me many valuable lessons:

  • This exercise builds my writing muscle and, as I continue to practice, I make fewer of these mistakes, even in first drafts. My writing becomes stronger the more I edit.
  • Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts” occupy an important part of the writing process: get the words on the page. You can always edit later.
  • You become a better editor of your work, taking you closer to making it something you are proud to have published.
  • You grow as a writer through this process, better understanding you “pet” words and phrases, growing your vocabulary each time you replace a word or phrase.
  • You provide a five-star feast for your reader; they don’t need to weed through extraneous content to find your meaning. You give them the gift of clarity.
  • You end up with a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, a story that you are proud to have others read.
  • You overcome the fear and procrastination of the editing process.
Clear day looking out at the Pacific from an Oregon beach.  Credit:  Theresa Duncan

Clean, clear writing is the goal – the gift you give your reader. Editing, which is exercise for your writing muscles, will always be hard work. The rewards of clarity and readability make the effort worthwhile.

How do you use the word search tool to edit your writing? What additional items do you search? What benefits have you realized from this or a similar process? Let our community know in the comments.

Happy editing… ~T

At Stacking Stones Writers, I seek to create a community of writers, a place you can go to find encouragement for your passion – writing.  Please follow the Stacking Stones Writers blog to have easy access to all the tips, tools, and ideas shared here.  Thank you!

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