Every book has a mouldy couch. Find yours.

It could be the opening paragraph you drafted at the start of your project, the conclusion you tacked on in a hurry, or the chapter that contains crucial information but never really fit (face it).

Every manuscript contains what I think of as a mouldy couch. It’s something that shouldn’t be there and really is not improving anyone’s life, let alone the manuscript. It needs to be hauled away. And you, dear writer, need to do the hauling.

The first paragraph you wrote, which now seems misplaced in the rest of the draft? It served its purpose by helping you start the book. Now you can cut it. Besides, the tone was a little off, wasn’t it?

The conclusion that you tacked on when you were exhausted from writing the book proper? Take another run at it now that you’re refreshed.

There is a reason why the “messy middle” is a trope in writing and editing. The manuscript is trundling along just fine, pace is about right, and suddenly things slow down, get weird, aren’t as well argued. You have reached the messy middle of the manuscript, the motherlode of mould. Dig into its dark, funky heart: what’s working? What is merely placeholder for something better? Roll up your sleeves and have at it.

Every piece of writing can be made shorter. Most pieces of writing will improve as a result. Should I have shortened this blog post? Definitely.

And why a mouldy couch? Well, as most writers who work with me know, I tend to speak in metaphors when doling out editorial advice. So, in this vein, once you clear out the piece of furniture that is not working in the room, and might even be hazardous to your health (OK, I also speak in hyperbole) you have more space to work with, and you certainly can breathe a little easier.

You probably have a pretty good idea of what’s stinking up the place. If you don’t, inhale deeply. Turn that fetid chapter into something that really ties the room together.

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