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Hi, I'm Jamie. I'm a writer, reader, and huge TV junkie. I just might post about all three here on this blog. Have a look around. And if you want, drop me an email and tell me what you think. Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

don't be a hoarder!

We hear it all the time: Streamline your writing. Take out all the "unnecessary" words, phrases, dialogue, characters...make your writing tight and beautiful and perfect. Yeah. If it were as easy to do as it is to say, we'd all have books on the shelves, right?

But there is a way, I believe, to achieve the goal of tight, beautiful prose. And I think the A&E show Hoarders gives us a prime example how. Just bare with me, I'm not as crazy as I seem.

In some way or another, writing is like this show. The people showcased here collect as much stuff as they can and keep it. Forever. We as writers tend to do that, don't you think? When we start a first draft of "The Next Great American Novel", we are deeply in love with our words. All 150,000 of them. We don't want to lose a single one. We argue with ourselves, our crit partners, our beta readers, that each word means something to the overall story.

It won't make sense without that adjective!
But I need that "that" in there!
I know I used "just" 1,284 times...I meant to!

Sound familiar? Yeah, I do it too. But we can't, people. We just can't. If we do, our WIPs are gonna look like this:

Yeah. Imagine all that stuff is really words, piled from the top of the page to the bottom. Ugly, huh? None of us really want that, no matter how much we say we do. So let's try to not be Hoarders, and clean it up.

Like the experts tell the guests on the show, you have to dig deep to find out what the real root of the problem is, and begin there. Otherwise, you'll end up right back where you started. In our writing, we too need to dig deep. We need to dig deep into the back story of our characters to find what really makes them tick. We need to dig deep through our creative minds to find the words we really want to use instead of those plain, boring, unnecessary ones. We need to dig deep to discover that less really is more. Piece of cake. Done.

If only.

To me, the task of cleaning up my completed first draft was overwhelming when I first stepped into the world of "wanting to be a writer". So overwhelming, in fact, that I completely scrapped my first completed work just so I wouldn't have to edit it. Crazy, I know. But at the time, I just couldn't handle the stress of revision. (See how I like the word 'just'?)

Fast-forward nearly a year, and I'm exactly the same! Nah, just kidding. Now, after "digging deep" into the world of author blogs and agent websites and "How To Write A Book Without Really Writing It" books, I fully understand the all-encompassing need to revise, revise, revise.

That doesn't mean I want to, though.

I know that there are some writers out there who absolutely love revising their work. They speed through the first draft like a meth addict rifling through a stranger's belongings, just so they can get to the editing. I envy those people, I really do. I wish I could have the Gung-ho attitude they possess. But alas, I do not. I have to rely on my own lacking will power to get my butt in the chair and revise. But I have learned something that helps. And I learned it from Hoarders.

All you have to do is break it down room by room. On the show, the expert organizers and therapists that are brought in to help the hoarders usually tackle one room at a time so as not to overwhelm the homeowners. They would take the kitchen you saw earlier in this post and completely empty it, throwing out all the unnecessary junk and trash, putting back only what is necessary for survival. Boy that sounds good, huh? Don't you wanna get rid of the junk and trash in your WIP and leave only what's necessary for it to survive? I know I sure do.

For my current completed first draft, I am in the process of revising. And I've decided to break it down "room by room" - starting with the dreaded adjectives. We all use them, we all love them. And I'm sure we all abuse the heck out of them, too! Overuse, misuse, whatever you wanna label it, we all do it. I'm going through the entire ms, only paying attention to my use of adjectives, nothing else. Once I'm done with that, I'll go back to the beginning and work on something else (word repetition, probably). Then when I'm done with that pass, I'll go back to the beginning and pick another faux pas. And so on and so on and so on...you get the idea.

I'm hoping that revising this way will be much less stressful in my mind, and that I'll actually enjoy it. Who knows? Maybe once I'm done, my ms will look more like this:

So what about all of you? How do you revise? Do you see any of your writing in this kitchen - either before or after?


  1. This is an excellent analogy! I used to have a rpocess like that, wher eI highlighted all the adjectives and adverbs on once page, then punched them into a spreadsheet to tally the total amoutn of times those words showed up on one page. Then I set up a rule where I could only use it once, and had to edit out the rest.

    I scrapped this plan because it removed all sense of voice from the manuscript - but I think the way you're tackling it is a much better idea!

  2. Loved this post, Jamie! I am not a writer, but I tend to think this way when I write my reviews for the books I read. I feel like I am always using the same words over & over again. It's frustrating & annoying. When I can't seem to "clean it up", I have to walk away for a bit & come back to it when my mind is fresh.

    As for the show Hoarders.. seriously creeps me out!! I do not, for the life of me, understand how someone can get that way. Obviously these people have serious mental issues - but really? living in your own feces is ok with you?! Ugh.

  3. LOL, you've completely described me! I'll definitely have to keep this in mind when I'm revising. Great post! :)

  4. I watch Hoarders and I get the connection.
    I was getting worried about the word 'just' appearing too many times in my novel too!
    This was a great post, it reminds me that I better get to revising the novel I started during NaNoWriMo, I've been reluctant to start the dreary process.
    Once again, nice post! :)

  5. Elena - Great to know someone has sorta tried this method and it works!

    Ginger - Thanks! And I LOVE that show...but you are so right - most times it's disgusting!

    Pam - I've probably described ALL of us! (and congrats again on your win!)

    PurpleMist - So glad it served as a reminder for you!

  6. Thanks for the post! I'll have to keep this in mind when I get to that point in my own novel; great information here.

    Good luck with your revisions!

  7. Yes, definitely. Those problem words and phrases pile up and I have to keep going back and reminding myself all those "that's" are just clutter. Great analogy.

  8. "Just bare with me, I'm not as crazy as I seem."

    You are still crazy, but your crazy totally makes sense.

  9. Eagle - Thanks for the luck!

    JEFritz - It's a hard reminder, believe me I know!

    Missie - Wow, I just realized I used "bare" instead of "bear"...how awful!