- Go from one end to the other, picking out all the weeds carefully.
- Wander about, picking out weeds as you see them.
- Decide that weeds are just plants with more determination and that, since everything is equal in God's eyes, they should be allowed to remain. (Please don't take this view of the weeds in your book. Not if you want to be published and read.)
- You need to know the difference between a weed and a plant.
- And you just have to get rid of the damned weeds. Doesn't matter how - just do it.
- No matter how carefully you do it, you'll find more weeds at the end, because the removal of one weed often reveals another lurking beneath.
- You need to know what possible errors you're looking for - the difference between a good sentence / plot structure and a crappy one, just as you need to know what's a weed and what's not.
- And you just need to get rid of the errors.
- And when you've got rid of one lot, another lot is revealed.
- So you get rid of them.
- And so on.
- Until your piece of work is weed-free.
CATEGORY ONE WEEDS are the choking bindweedy ones, which threaten to take over your roses and throttle the life-blood from them. (There are actually many of these in my real garden and at least one in my WIP.) These must be removed early on, by the roots, otherwise your roses cannot grow and your garden, frankly, is fit only for slugs and other vermin. It is, in the words of Rab C Nesbit, pish. Examples are:
- Poor characterisation - either in your MCs or your supporting acts. Do your characters always behave as they should? Does the reader like / respect/ identify with / feel for the MC? (We don't need to do all those things, but we have to care.)
- Pace problems - I wrote about that here.
- Tension issues - where is the tension? Is it in the right place? Is it satisfied at the right time?
- Voice slippages - see here.
- Major POV slippages - here you are.
- Story structure / shape / arc problems - over here.
- Saggy middle - hmm. I went searching for posts about saggy middles but kept finding myself mentioning them but never tackling them. This is rather the case in real life, too. I will have to tackle the saggy middle. Soon.
- Crappy ending - here.
- Story starting in the wrong place - gosh, I'm good to you.
- And a lot more - which is not very helpful of me but I have a book to write.
CATEGORY TWO WEEDS are smaller things, which all writers will find in their first drafts and which we will apply the weeding gloves to with a commendable ruthlessness. Our editors and copy-editors and proof-readers will pick up any that we didn't spot but we want to leave as little as possible for these people. It's our book, not theirs. (Also, publishers nowadays don't like to use editors etc more than they need to. Grrr.) Category Two weeds are like those dainty things that try to pretend they're real flowers. Sometimes my husband thinks they are and he leaves them. Sometimes he takes out the pretty flowers instead. He is like a novice writer when it comes to weeding, which in his case it usually doesn't, actually. Examples are:
- Places where tweaks should be made to clarify characterisation / motivation / credibility.
- Clunky sentences - sentences where you have clustered a collection of clauses in an ugly order, for example, making it hard for the reader to read.
- Minor POV or voice slippage.
- Places where thre's too much telling when showing would have been better. Extraneous adverbs.
- Continuity issues - eg saying that the MC leapt onto the horse's bare back and then later mentioning the stirrups. I have done this. Oh and then there was the one [which made it through all the copy-editors and all the way into the printed book] where a girl flings open the door of a room which ten minutes before I'd said was locked on the other side...
- Typos, spelling errors, punctuation etc etc. And yes, there will be some in this post. I'll find them eventually. But probably not all of them, because this is a blog post and I can change it later. So shut up, please.
- Anything that doesn't sound absofrigginglutely perfect when you read it aloud, imagining that your audience consists of fidgety people who are assuming you've got nothing interesting to tell them and they're desperate to leave.
One of the problems is that the weed you removed may have hidden roots. You will have noticed the same in books: if you change one thing, you'll find you have created knock-on effects which now have to be dealt with. So, you do have to remove weeds and plot problems by the root and make sure you've not forgotten any tendrils. I suggest keeping a notebook as you revise and jotting down things you've changed, so that you can check that you've found all the consequences. However, this is a bit methody for me and I prefer the madness approach and the constant re-reading.
And when you're quite sure that no weed is peeping up between the soil of your well-raked flower-border, then you can let an agent or publisher see it. By which time, a previously invisible seed will have begun to sprout, and what you thought was perfection won't be. That's because perfection is unattainable in writing as in gardening, and you have to get over it.
Have I answered your questions? Probably not. See, I don't really have a method. I just do it. And do it again. I honestly think once you can identify the weeds, pulling them out is not that difficult. You can choose whatever weeding method works for you: just get rid of the little buggers.
Oh, and by the way, spell-check and grammar-check are the equivalent of weed-killer: they don't let anything grow. They kill indiscriminately and remove control from the gardener. They may have their place for some people but they are not enough for anyone. Real writers use their hands.
Here's one I made earlier, with not a weed in sight. (Obviously a lot earlier, since this is September and those are not Septemberish seedlings.)