10 Tips to Clean Up Your Writing

It’s easy to let your writing go and have projects pile up. Here are 10 easy things you can do to clear some space on your desktop.

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. Trying to do it all at once will paralyze.

8. Make time
Finding time to write can be tough—especially for this editor. 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. (Like the clock?)

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. (Need an impartial review? Check my Editorial services page.)

6. 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.

5. Recycle
Remember that character you spent so much time developing for Book 3 only to find he didn’t really fit the revised premise? Rename him and 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.

4. 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.

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—it doesn’t work! 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 consists of many related tasks. Consistently and conscientiously cleaning out your writing life can be exciting, invigorating, and ultimately, rewarding.

Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line


8 thoughts on “10 Tips to Clean Up Your Writing

  1. Mike,
    Thanks for the down-to-earth advice. I appreciate the advice to give one project priority. I’m learning that the hard way. It’s good to have someone offer suggestions that are filled with common sense. Good article…you deserve some M&M’s.

  2. When I find myself putting off my writing I know there’s something I need to change. My go-to solution is to clean up and clear out my work area to help me focus. Great post and great advice!

  3. I’ve seen similar lists before. I read them and sigh. If I could just learn to prioritize. Oh, I have fits of prioritizing, but then a fire breaks out and I return to “fireman” mode: throw water on the biggest blaze. And many times, there’s more fire than water.

    But we need lists like this. They nudge us back into good practice. And like the gospel, its “good news” we need to hear over and over and over. Helps us get back to basics.

    I’m particularly fond of the idea that “M&Ms aren’t just for toilet training…” My wife would suggest celery sticks. On that, we’ve reached a compromise. I use dried pineapple. It melts in you mouth, too; not in your hands.

    • Believe me, Jim, I struggle with this so much … particularly in keeping my desk clean. I ought to take a picture of my desk and post it … but my wife would be too embarrassed. Maybe that’s my job for the day?

      I’ll stick with the M&Ms …

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