It’s spring cleaning season. I recently saw a couple of pieces, here and here, on how to organize and tidy up. Reading them, I noticed that much of the advice also applies in a way to writing and editing. So here are six tips on how to keep your home in shape – and how to spring clean your copy too
1. Clean from ceiling to floor
Don’t start by vacuuming or mopping. You’ll only dirty the floor again when you clean blinds, furniture and fixtures, or knock webs off the walls or ceilings. So reverse the order.
Lesson for writers: Focus on the top. If you don’t get those opening lines right and set the tone, you’re more likely to have messes lower down in your copy.
2. Don’t use weak cleaning products for tough grime
To do a thorough seasonal cleaning job, you need the right formulas. A paper towel and all-purpose spray just won’t do it. You have to really get in there and scrub.
Lesson for writers: Don’t treat your words as so precious that you can only tweak them with the softest touch. Attack your copy with extra-strength editing.
3. Take everything out and put back only what you really need
When you’re cleaning your closet or drawers, remove all items. This makes it easier to decide what to keep, throw out or re-purpose. Otherwise you’ll still have clutter.
Lesson for writers: Machines work best when they have no unnecessary parts. Likewise, a sentence should contain no unnecessary words, and a paragraph no unnecessary sentences. Be ruthless when de-cluttering your writing.
4. Avoid streaks
Wash windows on a cloudy day. Why? The sun can reveal the dirt on your windows, making it easy to see where to clean. However, the heat can also dry cleaning fluid faster. That can leave streaks.
Lesson for writers: All the efforts you put in to writing and re-rewriting should be invisible to the audience. In polishing your copy, make sure it stays crystal clear.
5. It doesn’t matter where you start – just start
It’s daunting to think of cleaning an entire home. Don’t worry about getting it all done at once, or whether everything is organized in a single try. Begin with just one room. Better yet, pick part of the room. Like the messy corner. Or the junk drawer in the kitchen. Progress drives momentum, even if some messes remain for now.
Lesson for writers: If you’re stuck, don’t worry about the audience. Initially, write for an audience of one – yourself. Don’t be self-conscious. Nobody will read this yet except you. Don’t worry about length, grammar, typos or if it all flows logically. Don’t try to re-write while you’re writing. Just get it all down. When you’re done, you’ll have something there. It won’t be perfect. You’ll still have to toss out a lot. But at least you’ve made a start.
6. Create a space where function and form are equals
You can get things off floors or surfaces, and they can still be shoved chaotically in a dresser or closet. Create useful and also attractive spots that are designated for all of your items, like baskets on a shelf. If the system you use to organize is orderly and beautiful, you’re likelier to maintain it.
Lesson for writers: Your copy has to be structurally sound, with everything in its place, but that’s not enough; it has to sing too.
Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, etc., etc.
March 27, 2019