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 in the parking lot.

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 a Reuben sandwhich and garlic fries…

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. This has been an excerpt from his upcoming book, Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing: Pearls of Wisdom from 16 Years as a Shucking Columnist. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

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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...

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

  1. What your NWOW taught me today:

    *I need to get back to the dentist
    *I love all three parts of the hygienic process – I’ve been ‘rinsing’ old pieces – it’s refreshing in so many ways
    *Continued references to EL James makes me think that you’ve read more of that series than you are letting on. ….not that I would even know what you are talking about 😉

    Thank you for another great NWOW. You haven’t seen much of me because I’ve been a) writing and b) my son’s friends got hold of my last blog post and he’s not letting me write about him anymore 🙂

    1. Hey Michelle!
      It’s always a good feeling knowing writing advice I’ve given is actually useful, especially because I know you made it past “spanking.” Well done! 😉

      Although I miss seeing you as often around these parts, knowing it’s because you’re busy writing is the best of reasons! That being said, I have a lot of catching up to do on the blog-reading front myself…

      See you soon 😉

  2. I was going to leave an amusing, dental-related comment to compliment you on these great hints, but I can’t get past the saliva vacuum. Do you prefer Hoover or Bissell?

  3. I’m getting lazy with my flossing and brushing due to one of my followers who takes great delight in emailing me all my grammatical errors seemingly within minutes of me hitting ‘publish’. I think he has a sixth sense as to when my post goes live- either that or he is a very sad individual who sits at his computer all day waiting for the email that tells him a new post has been published. Personally I think he needs to get a life and leave my grammar alone 😊

    1. Let’s hope he isn’t your dentist 😉

      I actually have one reader (newspaper) who sends in a nasty note whenever one of my columns mentions anything about commodes or bowel movements. This person never leaves their name, but cuts the column out, puts it in an envelope and drops it into our mail slot with a nasty note written on it. In March, I wrote a piece about elephant butt coffee. They wrote “Please put Hickson’s crap in the outhouse where it belongs instead of the newspaper!”

      So yeah, it’s nice to have fans, Haha!

        1. I’ve only gotten two (see? I don’t write about bodily functions as often as you might think), and the first one was questioning the newspaper’s lapse in judgement for having me in it.

          It almost makes me WANT to write about flatulence or something just to get a note.

          Hmmm. Maybe I’M the one with the control issue?!? 😉

          1. Ah, go for it – you could write an exceptionally amusing article about flatulence, especially about teenage boys’ ability to ‘perform’ before an audience…in what way do they ever think that is going to attract girls?

No one is watching, I swear...

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