Grooming your story

As an insomniac, I spend a lot of time snuggled under my blankets and staring at the ceiling in the dark. Sometimes it’s nice to just lay there and think, though I’d admittedly rather be sleeping. Sometimes I have great ideas while I’m staring at the ceiling. And other times, I think of things that are either brilliant or ridiculous. I’m going to share one of those things with you today:
Editing your writing is just like grooming a horse.

Like most little girls, I was in love with horses. I took riding lessons as a preteen, and one of the first things I learned was that if you’re going to ride a horse, you’re responsible for making the animal fit to ride. This meant the first 15 minutes of each lesson started with grooming. If a horse isn’t groomed right before riding, it’ll cause sores under the saddle or even throw off its ability to perform.
Your writing is the same way.

Grooming begins with a hoof pick.
Grab one and pick up your story’s feet. Now get rid of all the dung.
It’s an unpleasant comparison, but it’s true. Books travel a long way to reach completion, and by the time they get there, they’ve picked up all sorts of crud that keeps your story from standing comfortably on its own. So scrape out the manure. Your steed will be much better off without it.

Once that’s done, grab the curry.
Curry combs are often rubber, but particularly rough patches of your mount’s coat might call for a metal curry. The curry comb is used by vigorously rubbing circles over your horse’s coat, freeing loose hair, dirt, mud, and other unpleasant things that might be hiding there. In terms of writing, this is standard editing. You’ve already cut the bad parts, now you’re focusing on smaller problems. Removing unnecessary fluff and things that don’t actually help the story.

Next comes the stiff-bristled brush.
The hardest parts are over, but now you’ve got to sweep away all the junk you loosened with the curry. The stiff brush removes the chunks of dirt and clumps of hair, leaving your horse–or your story–showing the first glimpses of that quality coat underneath. These are your copy editing standards. Fixing tenses, cutting unnecessary words, splitting long sentences in half. You’re smoothing out the bumps now that the problem areas have been worked through.

Then the soft-bristled brush.
After the last step, your ride is clean, but you aren’t finished quite yet. The soft brush helps remove the dust left from the last step, leaving your horse’s coat smooth and shiny. This is where you polish your writing, trimming out unnecessary words and cutting commas, making sure you’re ready for the most exciting (and often scariest) part.

Saddle up and ride.
Depending on how showy you’re going to get, you might want to add a couple swipes with a polishing cloth for just a little extra shine. But this is fine for most purposes. Your story is groomed and ready to go, so it’s time to mount up and see where it might take you. The ride is rarely smooth and can often have unexpected hurdles, but it’s just part of the experience.

Just remember that if you want to ride, you’re going to get bucked off. More than once. You’ll be bruised, sore and scared, but get back on. Always get back on.

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