What I Tell Myself When Revising

Sometimes I tell myself these things when I’m writing something new, but usually it’s when I’m revising that I really have to pay heed to them.  Some people might call these tips or rules for writing — I would say they are more like self-admonishments.  The order below is roughly the frequency, highest to lowest, of how often I have to say this to myself:


  1. Simplify / cut to the bone.  I tend to make plot things way too complicated and then they knot everything up.  This also applies to language — nothing extra or unnecessary.
  2. Start with the action. It’s easy to write lots of lead-up to the action, because that’s the warm-up, the throat clearing.  That’s all fine in a draft where the book is being constructed, but it needs to be removed later.  In addition to being superfluous and slowing down the story, it’s also usually boring.
  3. Keep the dialogue focused.  If dialogue actually replicated the way people talk, it would be meandering and tedious.
  4. Eliminate flabby sentences.  This is its own step all by itself — I remove things that begin with “He thought that” or similar and just start after “that”.  Other flabbinesses are weak or vague verbs and unnecessary adverbs (which is most of them; my weakness is for ones that qualify a reaction: entirely, particularly, completely).  A scene that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere can acquire a lot more immediacy when it’s been de-flabbed.  I want my writing to show its pecs, darn it.