Ah, spring cleaning. It’s that time of year to clear out the garage and storage, purge our closets, let the warm springtime air breeze in the house through open windows. And during times of being stuck inside, it seems spring cleaning is an idea being embraced by just about everyone.
Spring cleaning doesn’t just apply to your home; it should also apply to your mental, emotional, and artistic state of mind. Take your novel, nonfiction book, or memoir, for example: Sometimes there is so much clutter on the page, and instead of tidying up the task now, we postpone it, just like our house chores. But just like spring cleaning, it can be satisfying to work on bringing that novel one step closer to publication.
In spirit of the new season, we have 10 tips on spring cleaning your novel to help declutter and dust off those pages.
1. Clean up wordiness
We’ve all heard the saying “kill your darlings.” A lot of times we find we have to edit out some of our favorite flowery language and descriptions. While these can be powerful when used at the correct time, a lot of the time it’s an adjective free-for-all. Make sure that each word is playing a pivotal role in the writing. If it’s simply there just to look pretty, you may want to remove it to keep focus.
2. Take out widows and orphans
A great way to declutter a page and edit is finding all the widows and orphans. If you have one word taking up a whole line, take a look and decide whether or not the sentence could be trimmed to eliminate the hanging word. When you go back to the document, you might have an easier time focusing on the newly arranged content.
3. Check your grammar
Correcting the smallest spelling or grammatical mistake can take a huge weight off the manuscript, making it easier to read. Take your time to go through and just edit grammar, then as you work your way through again, focus more on content or characters. You may even notice that it declutters a lot of the page, removing those red lines and keeping the rows clean!
4. Search for troubling words
All writers have specific words and phrases that (which?) always cause them to (too?) second-guess if they’re (their?) using them correctly. Here are few to consider:
- a lot/alot
- into/in to
5. Break-up sentences
Check for run-on sentences. If you notice two ideas merging into one sentence, that could be a great place to break. Some sentences may not be as easy, so it’s crucial to decide where everything looks and sounds correct. Reading it out loud
6. Refresh your plot outline
If you’re having a difficult time figuring out what’s important, take a moment to look at your work as a whole. Write down the main plot and/or descriptions of the chapters. Having a strong outline is a powerful tool when going back to your work and reminding yourself which scenes are important.
7. Remove all double spaces at the end of sentences
If tapping two spaces following your sentences is an age-old habit ingrained into you since before the dawn of modern digital typography, may I suggest ingraining another practice?
Conduct a find-and-replace search after you’re done writing. In Word, type two spaces in “find” and one space in “replace” and hit enter.
8. Clean up problematic punctuation
Do you overuse exclamation points? Commas? Em dashes? If you know you have trouble with certain punctuation marks, conduct a search for that mark and figure out whether you’re using it correctly.
9. Subscribe to The Chicago Manual of Style
When an editor returns your manuscript, they may cite particular sections of The Chicago Manual of Style. If you’re unfamiliar with this Bible of the publishing industry, you may not be aware of precisely why the editor made a certain change.
By subscribing to CMOS (it’s only $39 a year), you’ll be able to look up issues on your own before sending your manuscript off to an editor or beta reader. Sure, you shouldn’t get too hung up on some of the issues (editors have their jobs for a reason), but learning more about the mechanics of writing can only help you become a better writer.
10. And most importantly: Hire an editor or a proofreader!
It doesn’t matter how you publish: one of the most important things you can do is hire an editor AND a proofreader. A copyeditor addresses larger things in a manuscript, while a proofreader provides the final clean-up. Check out our post on 5 Important Truths and Myths on Hiring an Editor. https://midnightpublishingllc.com/hiring-an-editor-5-important-truths-and-myths/