Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Revising is like bedroom closets

I watched the show Hoarders for the first time a few days ago. Have you seen it? Oh my gosh, that show makes me want to cry! And then hyperventilate from the claustrophobia. And then empty my house of every single thing not required to live.

On the show, the lady's house was actually even worse than this one! She had to be pretty close to the ceiling as she was climbing over things.

Doesn't it make you start looking for escape routes? Obviously keeping every cool thing you come across isn't a good idea.

Which brings me to what I'm really talking about. Drafting is like bedroom closets.

When you're drafting, you come across so many cool things! Things you pick up that you want to take home and include in your own manuscript. Like things that happened to your main character. Sure it happened before the story started, but they shaped WHO THE CHARACTER IS. Some are cool things in the setting. Sure they don't move the plot forward, but THEY ARE JUST SO INTERESTING. Sometimes it's a subplot that went in a direction you weren't even expecting, and you ran with it because it was SO MUCH FUN. Sometimes you see a character in a movie or in a book that so enthralled you, you want a character with some of those traits in your book too. Sure, developing them has eaten a lot of words and isn't integral to the plot, but YOU LOVE THEM.

And doing all of that is PERFECTLY FINE. Really. Because during that "bring stuff home" phase, you might discover that element of your story that is the equivalent to the perfect pair of jeans that you don't think your wardrobe could live without.

It's really okay to have a draft that looks like this closet.

But let's face it: it can't stay that way. Readers will start looking for escape routes. That closet needs cleaned and organized.

Which brings me to my actual point. Revising is also like bedroom closets.

Have you ever stood in front of your bedroom closet and thought I have nothing to wear, even though there were tons of clothes in there? Sometimes there is so much STUFF, you can hardly see what's good. If you go through and toss anything that doesn't HAVE to be in there, then suddenly you feel like you can breathe again AND see what you really have to work with. It isn't hidden behind a bunch of stuff that may or may not have been cool, but is nonetheless adding in a positive way to your wardrobe.

Same goes for manuscripts. If there is so much extra stuff in it, regardless of how awesome it is, it can make it hard to see the plot. It clutters the story. It hides the truly good parts.

And then when all of the extra is gone, you can take a good look at the closet and think, No wonder I felt like I had nothing to wear. I only have two skirts! I don't have many dress shirts! I need a new pair of pants!

And just as easily, when you look at a manuscript without any clutter, you can see I need more description here! This plot turn would be stronger if I built up the opposite emotion right before it! My character just did something he/she had no motivation to do! You'll actually be able to SEE what changes need to be made.

And in the end you'll be left with a manuscript that the equivalent of a closet you can't stop staring at because everything in it's so darn perfect.

Happy revising everyone!


Kelley Lynn said...

Hey Peggy!

Thanks for the comment on my post. I'm now an official follower of your blog ;)

This post is beautifully written. The analogy is perfect.

More is not better, but we have to bring everything in, in order to figure out what is the best to keep there.

You might have the cutest, sexiest high heel shoes, which look good on, but they make your feet hurt and you have to walk home barefoot. :)

The better choice, though not the most appealing initially is perhaps some cute flats. They let the rest of your outfit, the whole package shine. So you don't look like a weirdo walking home carrying your shoes :)

Stacy Henrie said...

Love the analogy! Thanks for giving my current first draft permission to look like a messy closet. :) I've watched Hoarders too - pretty interesting stuff.

Matthew MacNish said...

This is an excellent analogy! So true. I struggle with this a lot in my own writing (still trying to cut 20,000 words).

Also, I'm a new follower here, so:

Nice ta meet ya Peggy!

Ozzland said...

I usually have a lot to say, not that anyone is listening, i just do!

But.... as was already said this analogy is excellent and I appreciate the reminder.

Keep it simple keep it clean, and when in doubt THROW IT OUT!

Peggy Eddleman said...

Kelley-- Welcome! I'm so happy! And yeah. No one wants to look like a weirdo walking home carrying their shoes. :)

Stacy-- It's too bad we don't have a visual representation of our "closet" when our first draft is done. It'd look so cool next to the after picture!

Matthew-- Nice to meet you, too! Isn't cutting words the worst? I needed to cut 20,000 from mine, too, but only managed to cut 10,000. Sigh.

Ozzland-- That is officially my new mantra. "When in doubt, throw it out!" It works with everything! Manuscripts... closets... questionable things in the refrigerator... today's mail... I tell you, it's golden!

Jessie Humphries said...

I love the feeling that clean closet gives me! And btw my lil bro is going to Lansing, Michigan.)

Janet said...

I like to watch that show, them it gives me a boost to hurry and pick my house up.

Talei said...

Wish my wardrobes were as tidy as the last pic! ;-)

I think with revising, I do need to declutter all the add-ons, which seem wonderful at the time of writing ( first draft) but in hindsight really do nothing for the story. Hard to cut some scenes, but definitely necessary!

Happy Writing this week!

Weaver said...

I absolutely love your analogy! Now to make some order out of what's in my brain.


Wow, it is magic to see the comparison of these three pics, help me quickly follow your analogy. Greetings from China. Welcome for your visit.

Bkloss said...

What a great analogy! (and oh my, I've seen that show :D Yikes!)

Sometimes when I start my story, I get so overwhelmed with all the things I want to write into it. I always have to remind myself - "Barbara, you can revise later". My draft ends up looking like that closet, and after months and months of revisions, begins resembling something more tiday. At least, one can hope :D

Peggy Eddleman said...

Jessie-- I know! It's amazing how good it feels walking by a clean closet, even if the door is closed. And congrats to your brother!

Janet-- Is that why your house is always sparkly clean and free of clutter? I may have to start watching it more.

Talei-- I totally agree! Happy writing to you too!

Donna-- You just made me wonder if brains are like closets, too. Hm...

Chinatours-- Greetings to you too! Thanks for stopping by.

Barbara-- Totally! Then I find the trick is trying to figure out what to throw out, and what helps make the story unique. But yay for the end when everything's tidy!

Kristine said...

That last photo is my favorite. Make me want to keep looking at it. The others? Not so much. Awesome analogy!

Peggy Eddleman said...

Thanks, Kristine! And I totally agree. Makes me want to go spend some quality time with my closet.

Anonymous said...

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Ryan Stuart Lowe said...

Ugh, my partner and I are moving this week, so our apartment looks a little more like the first few places. But it's important to remember that just like you have to settle into a new home, you have to settle into a new draft. Cheers!

Lani Wendt Young said...

I reeeally want a closet that looks like the final one at the end of this post. Im always telling my husband that i have nothing to wear ( as i stand in front of this hideous mess i have right now) and I love the thought that - if i clean it up, then I will have PROOF that i have nothing decent to wear and can run out and buy some more...
But I digress. I enjoy how your posts teach writing skills and techniques in a very engaging and real way. I can laugh and still learn something new to help me with my writing. Thank you

Peggy Eddleman said...

Anonymous-- Awww, thanks!
Ryan-- Good luck with your move! And especially good luck with unpacking and getting to THAT FINAL BOX. There should be a award given to people who get to unpacking that last box. I love your analogy! Yes, you totally have to settle into a new draft. Thanks for stopping by!
Lani-- Hahahaha! Yes, get proof. Make pretty closet. Shop. And awww! Thank you! You are so sweet!

Shell Flower said...

Wow, this really hit home (not my literal house, thank goodness). One of my manuscripts would totally look like that kitchen if translated into hoarders terms. Must say, I love that show for the way it motivates me to clean!

BECKY said...

Hey Peggy, just discoverd this post on your side column. Love your analogy about the closets! That show Hoarders gives me the creeps, becaue those people even keep trash around! I like "Clean House" better, because although those people have messier homes MUCH worse than mine ever gets, it's usually because of clutter and an addiction to shopping! :o