Want to keep your writing fresh? Start with regular flossing

image I’d like to thank the American Dental Association for sponsoring this week’s writing tip, which brings me to a startling statistic: 4-out-of-5 dentists have never recommended or even heard of this blog. The fifth dentist only heard about it when, moments after my lips went numb, I was trying to say “Ben Roethlisberger’s lob” and he thought I said “Ned’s worthless blog.” Regardless, there are many similarities between keeping a fresh feeling to your writing and avoiding gingivitis. So think of me as your “literary orthodontist” as I take you through a quick writer’s check-up. Please remember I don’t have a saliva vacuum…

A good dentist will tell you it’s important to floss between meals, and will demonstrate its importance by flossing for you during your visit. That’s unless he also happens to be your proctologist, in which case I’d like to welcome you to the new National Health Care Plan.

As writers, we need to “floss” regularly in order to keep tarter — in the form of over-used or cliche’ words and descriptions — from building up in our writing. During an initial draft, particularly in novel writing, the objective is to get your thoughts, ideas and general direction down on paper. If inspiration strikes during a descriptive passage in your first draft, great! But if you’re like the rest of us, and you end up with a description like “Her skin was as smooth as a baby’s bottom wrapped in a silk diaper,” acknowledge it for the tarter that it is and know you will floss it out later. If you already take this approach, then give yourself a sticker. Oh heck… take a pencil, too!

The problem occurs when we allow ourselves to fall into a pattern of last-minute writing and editing, leaving little or no time to floss. Unless this pattern is recognized and reversed, the tarter builds until, one day while sitting across from an editor or publisher, you open your mouth to discuss your manuscript and notice a distinct odor. At that point, discreetly flossing is no longer an option. Even with one of those little, single-use flossers I’m always finding on the ground.

Try this helpful tip: Think of the first draft as an open mouth, with one of those shoe horn-type devises jammed in there to reveal the teeth of someone who just ate Thanksgiving dinner…

Ok, so I realize that wasn’t as helpful as it seemed in my mind. The point I was trying to make is that, no matter how unpleasant and time consuming, it’s important to recognize the need for “flossing” each sentence, paragraph and page of your writing to get rid of tarter-like cliche’s and reveal those pearly whites that shine with inspiration. (Did I mention Colgate is also a sponsor today?)

As E.L. James’ dentist would say, “A good flossing should always be followed by a good spanking.” The same goes for the rest of us, except that our dentists would recommend a good brushing instead. The same applies to writing. Yes, even when there’s spanking involved. What I mean by this is that I really need to get a lawyer before I am sued by E.L. James. It also means, just like maintaining good oral hygiene, the next step after a good flossing is brushing. In this case, it means going back over things now that the “tarter” has been cleared away. That’s when potential problems — gaps, looseness or even the need for an extraction — can be recognized while thoroughly brushing through what you’ve written. Use a firm brush, not a soft one. If you do it right, there should be a little “bleeding” involved as you make some tough decisions and acknowledge flaws.

If there’s a lot of blood, you may want to switch genres.

Gargle and rinse:
This isn’t actually another tip. I just figured, after my unfortunate “think of your first draft as an open mouth” analogy, some of you may still be sitting there, motionless, with drool pooling in your mouths. It just seemed like a good opportunity for you to take care of that before someone notices.

Ok, actually there is something to be said about gargling when it comes to your manuscript. Just like gargling regularly with your favorite mouth wash — Scope, Listerine, Fireball cinnamon whisky — should be a part of your daily oral hygiene ritual in order to maintain freshness and prevent decay, a final “gargling rinse” should follow “flossing” and “brushing.” The truth is, things may look sparkly clean, but taking the time to give it one more rinse is a good idea.

Just be careful where you spit.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, will be released this December from Port Hole Publications. You can write to him at nhickson@thesiuslawnews.com, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

56 thoughts on “Want to keep your writing fresh? Start with regular flossing”

      1. um…no. well, maybe and yes. But I was actually asking due to the nature of your blog swaying toward the …um…50 Shades of Grey. See, I left my brand new copy on the plane. Damn them….and right at the point of a firm grip of a good spank and, dear lord..I was chained and bound and found myself in a world of orthodontically speaking – BRACED.

        That reminds me, I need to stop by and pick up batteries on my way home.

        For my toothbrush of course.

        1. I will keep my eye out for your book. If I find it, I’ll send it to you for a small, uh.. retainer.

          When you get those batteries for that toothbrush, remember to keep a firm grip.

          1. IF you find it, I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for 50 Shades Today.

            I keep a firm grip. Sometimes it does cause bleeding. Then I remember to back it off a little bit. It might be due to the size of the batteries tho. Size does matter.

            I think I need to go brush my teeth all of a sudden. Im getting all flossy flossy…

  1. Great analogy…goes to show that writing can be as nervewrecking as a trip to the dentist’s office…especially if the dentist in question is also your proctologist (which btw is a fear I will now carry with me for the rest of my life; from now on I will ask for my dentist’s full resume before I open my mouth for him.)

          1. I’m more familiar with his work than his teeth (that is: I’ve seen The Shawshank Redemption and know the premise of Carrie…and I started one of his books once, but can’t say I was overly impressed)
            So I was referring to his writing;)

            1. His books have been hot and cold with me. “Misery” remains at the top of the list for me, and the Shawshank Redemption” short story another favorite. “The Stand” and several of his others, including “It” not so much. I guess what I’m trying to say is: Thanks 😉

  2. Funny and informative as usual Ned. Nice analogy. Though, me being English, dentistry is a bit of a touchy subject. 44 years of NHS mouthcare has left my teeth looking like a row of condemned shithouses.

    1. Hahaha! Thanks for taking my “advice” as it was intended, Michael. Ironically, I just responded to someone who said they never realized the connection between writing and good oral hygiene. I told them I wasn’t sure the English would agree… 😉

  3. Solid analogy Ned. I haven’t read your blog before, but I’m pretty dam impressed. Really, keep it up man. You’re providing great advice to aspiring writers.

    1. Thanks, Jeremiah. I appreciate that and have a lot of respect for what you’re doing. I look forward to following your travels and doing my best to provide fuel to your fire. Or at least a laugh or two.

      Don’t be s stranger. (Auto-correct tried to insert “strangler.” Don’t be one of those, either 😉 )

            1. OK, but promise me you’ll sit up before you gargle. If something happens to you, I don’t want my “Flossing” post to be the last thing they find in your “history.”

                1. Me in court:
                  “Your honor, while it’s true my writing tips may have been irresponsible, let’s not forget that Adam died with absolutely no tarter. That has to count for something.”

                2. Some government agency is probably trying to decipher the final string of letters, like it’s secret terrorist code:

                  Let’s help them out:

                  Drink Your Ovaltine

No one is watching, I swear...

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