It’s coming up spring. If I close my eyes, I can remember my mom moving purposefully through the house with a bandana tied Aunt-Jemima-style over her hair. She carried a bucket of hot water and the broom with a towel over its bristles. She started with the ceiling and worked her way down, and by evening of the second day, the house gleamed with wax and polish and smelled wonderfully lemony. Though Mom didn't have a nice house or—I believe—great happiness in her life, this thing gave her joy. Gave her contentment that was often lacking.
I’m pretty much a straight-through writer. I start the day by reading what I wrote yesterday. I fix the most glaring of the errors from the day before and plod ahead. (I used to plunge ahead, but that turned into a plod a few years back—I’m really afraid the next step will be walking in place.) Sometimes I read the whole chapter I’m working on, but I don’t do a full-scale read of the work in progress until it’s done.
Except for when I do.
Sometimes knowing the manuscript needs some cleaning up stops that forward motion altogether. Inserting a new plot point can slow you simply because you know beyond all doubt you need to go back and foreshadow, maybe beef up the conflict, add a character in Chapter Two rather than waiting till the middle of the book. Occasionally, you need to make sure you've kept the hero’s eye color the same all the way through because you’re almost sure you said blue once and they’re not blue at all.
That’s when you have to take some time and read the whole thing. Do some dusting. Some cleaning. Some trash-tossing. At first, it might feel like a waste of time, but then you get involved in the story again, you remember why you love it, you realize that scene really is funny. You get to…yes, drat it, you did say he had blue eyes—what were you thinking?
And even if writing the book has been hard and not always happy, for a while you might plunge ahead instead of plod. You might feel the joy that’s been elusive. You might find the contentment as a writer you've always coveted, at least for a time, because your ceiling-to-basement polish of your manuscript will remind you that yes, your work is good enough, yes, your voice is distinctive enough, and yes, you can finish the book without losing your mind.
It’s spring cleaning. Nothing like it.