Come play inside a writer's brain, scary!

It’s First Monday again, when you’re invited to ask me anything about the writing life from craft issues to working with publishers.

Right now it’s spring in Australia, when we think of freshening up our homes, possessions and gardens. This week I was asked how you can spring clean your writing life. Here are 4 sure-fire ways:

1. Let go of old, tired projects
Many writers have pet ideas and half-finished manuscripts we hope to sell “some day.” As you know, some day never comes. If you’ve worked and reworked an idea, chances are you’ve also drained it of what Hemingway called “it’s juice.”

How do you know when an idea passes its use-by date? Look at the idea itself. Is it still current or has life overtaken the concept? Have the characters lost any resemblance to real people? Are you simply tired of the project? Look at the date on the pages. You may be surprised how many years have gone by while you tried to make this book work. Give it a decent burial and move on. A truly good idea will resurface in a new way, or you’ll free up your mind to take you somewhere fresh and exciting.


2. Let go of critique partners who no longer suit you
This is a tough call. When you got together as a group or online critique partnership, you were probably at the same stage. Are you now? Have you moved on while they’re still at the gunna stage – gunna write their best seller any day now, except they’ve been saying so for several years. On the other hand, you’ve written steadily and can see progress. You may be getting good feedback from editors and agents, perhaps had your first acceptance.

Two things can happen here. The left-behind CP may be jealous and seek to keep you at their level. Or their advice may conflict with your new editor’s. Can you stay friends with your CP or group while acknowledging that your work has moved on? Of course, if you’re the gunna, all the above applies in reverse.

3. Be honest with yourself about what you want from writing
If you’ve told friends, family and co-workers that you’re writing a book, do you feel obligated to keep going? Do you watch them having a life and feel jealous because every hour outside your day job is spent writing, thinking about writing or on some related activity? These shackles are entirely optional.

Why not take some time away from writing to test your commitment? This works as mental decluttering, and can make a huge difference to your words. Either you’ll find that you enjoy exploring other interests, or you’ll miss the act of storytelling so much that it feels like a physical loss. As I’ve said here before, writers write. We can no more stop spinning stories than we can give up breathing. Taking time out, maybe doing some real-life spring cleaning, will tell you what you want from writing. You’ll return to your projects with fresh ideas and hopes, or at the least, with a nice clean house.

4. Stay current with your writing
The publishing world is changing before our eyes. If you’re clinging to outdated writing methods and content, you may need to declutter this area of your life. Step away from your projects and take a big-picture look at where you are. Are you writing what you think the market wants? Life is short. Should you move on to that project you’ve always wanted to try, but were afraid wouldn’t sell?

Indie publishing, once derided as vanity publishing, is today’s big thing and getting bigger. Bestselling writers are reinventing themselves as hybrid authors, published by both traditional houses and under their own imprints. Others are going small-press to keep more control over their work.

The only book worth writing is the one that sings to you, keeps you awake at night and won’t let you go. If your pet book doesn’t grab traditional publishers, can you publish it yourself? Look up indie publishing, Smashwords, Amazon and the like to see what’s out there. You will need to pay for professional editing and a first-rate cover, as well as do tons of promotion including social media to give your book a real chance of success but after that, the sky’s the limit.


What is clutter to you? How do you manage it in your writing life? Comments are moderated to avoid spam. Click on “sign me up” at right if you want your comment to appear right away. I don’t share your email details with anyone. Questions? Thoughts? It’s over to you now.

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Comments on: "First Monday Mentoring for October – 4 ways to declutter your writing life" (15)

  1. As always, very timely. I was particularly interested in 3 and 4. These last couple of weeks I’ve been involved in SYTYCW14, put on by Harlequin. I entered a story I love that I thought was near enough to a Presents to be acceptable because I enjoyed the competition last time and wanted to participate. I know my stuff isn’t quite right for what they are publishing right now but it’s the sort of thing I would like to be reading. I have received some nice feedback but also some not so nice. But the feedback I found most challenging came from a published writer who wrote to me personally with the best of intentions. Some of what she said I knew. I’m old fashioned. That’s fine. I don’t expect to get a publishing contract from my entry.

    But what she did say was that I should give up reading the vintage romances because they were influencing my writing too much. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that if being published meant I had to give up reading vintage romances then perhaps I’m not as committed as I should be. Because given the choice…I’m not giving up reading them. If they are clutter, holding me back…I guess I’m happy in the dark ages.

    • Princess Fi, remember that opinions are just that, opinions. In all the years she wrote, Betty Neels never changed her style and her books remain popular today. Sometimes it means waiting for the market to catch up with you, or publishing your own work. I believe you must write from your own truths, not to a market or other people’s expectations. That said, is there a way to keep the vintage flavour you love, while making your characters fresh and contemporary? For instance, using some of the tropes such as secretary to a tough boss, but making her a more savvy PA who uses social media and technology. I hope you can keep your dreams and make them work for modern readers.

      • Heheh…thanks Valerie. I was discussing what I should use as my tag line once and one suggestion was “Virgins with Smartphones.”

      • I can totally see that working, Fi. And, as always, Valerie’s suggestions are spot on! Your writing style sparkles, and I know that if you persevere, publication is in your future!

  2. I love it! You have to use that title. I’d also add that there’s a whole movement around the world to preserving virginity for that special someone. You could Google this, to get an idea of why modern women would make this choice. Motivating characters is key to making these ideas work.

    • I should add, Princess Fi, that Presents and virginity don’t usually go into the same sentence. Presents has always been a sexier line, perhaps why you’re getting the comments you are. Finding the right “fit” for a project is also important.

      • It’s interesting that you should say that. I’m finding more virgins in the Presents books than in the other lines. I thought the Sweet Cherish lines would have them but they are full of single parents and heroines coming out of relationships with *cough* losers. Even the new Heartwarming line which has no bedrooms has experienced protagonists and the Love Inspired, where I thought I would find heaps of virgins, only seem to have them in the Historical lines. Even then there are quite a few widows and fallen women being redeemed. Straight Historical lines are full of fallen women and courtesans and widows. I virtually have to write them myself because I can’t find many to buy 😉

  3. printing this one out and putting it on top of the pile of clutter in my office. (yes, I know you’re talking about mental clutter but a girl can manage to develop both sorts of piles. ..)

    • True, Kate, but sometimes sorting out the mental clutter leaves you more able to tackle the physical stuff. Even sorting, filing or discarding one item a day will make a difference in the long term. There’s a fun book called Mini Habits that suggests committing to one push-up a day as a first step to getting fit. Most of us would do a few more “bonus” reps and before you know it, you’re on your way.

  4. Writing clutter… Hmmm. I think my real writing clutter has been having too many projects going at once, which is something I’ve finally given up. (I think…unless thinking about projects counts.)

    Good thoughts, Valerie! Of course, our last month’s writers’ meeting guest speaker was a writer who said never to throw away old manuscripts, because, years from now, they may be just the thing you want to work on again and get published. (She’s also published multiple times, but not as well-known as you yet!) Either way, I think as we grow and our writing styles change, we have to look at those old manuscripts with a reader’s eye and think, “Would she still write like that today, or would she change THIS paragraph, and THAT scenario over there?”

    A book I started writing back in school has been calling my name lately, its characters reminding me of their story. If I’d finished it then, I doubt it could have been published (I was still too immature). Now, however, I think I’m almost ready to give it another try. Right after I finish the next book in the series that people have been asking for, that is.. 🙂

    • What I’m finding when I look at my older manuscripts is that I might like the concept, but they would be a complete rewrite from scratch.

    • There’s generally a reason why old material doesn’t go anywhere. Unless you can solve that and bring the material up to date, it’s more likely to bog you down and guilt trip you for not finishing it. As Marion says, the ideas are still there. Perhaps try to do something new with the ideas rather than rehash the work as a whole. Can parts of it contribute to something you’re working on now?

      You’re absolutely right that our styles change as we learn and grow. You could try noting down the bones of the old work then put the pages away and start completely fresh, to see where the bones may lead.

      The real trap with too many projects can be that the brain doesn’t want to get past the “fun” stuff of developing and starting a book, to the marathon of completing one. Could you choose your favourite current work in progress and commit to finishing it, no matter how badly? Next month’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) may be a good time.

  5. Now I have the urge to clean out my documents. LOL. I have all sorts of things I’ve hung onto, thinking that one day, I might get back around to them. So far, not much. Great post, as usual, Valerie.

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