I love my dentist. He’s a great guy, a fellow Aggie, and a huge fan of Aggie baseball, just like me. I love his assistant. She’s an author, too, and we chat like old friends whenever we’re together. I even love my new hygienist, although I just met her this week, and our discussion didn’t really expand further than the shape my teeth are in (pretty good, thank you very much, although I can expect trouble with my old fillings in the future).
What I don’t love is dentistry. I hate having my mouth open that long without words coming out or food going in. I hate having other people’s fingers in my mouth. Not a fan of metal objects poking around. Hate clamping down on the X-ray duber. Hate choking on my spit. And I totally despise having my lips stretched like Play-Doh all over my face.
While I love visiting with everyone from the dental professionals to the office managers (next time, let’s do lunch!), what I love most about the dentist’s office is leaving it.
Usually, all I ask of the hygienist is to check for cavities and scrape off the tartar. I bypass the flossing (I can do that myself) and the polishing (I get the same polished feel with my electric toothbrush), so I can get out as quickly as possible.
However, yesterday, my new hygienist taught me why I should get my teeth polished: the gritty material used for the process scrapes off filmy residue. Brushing and flossing do a great job of cleaning the teeth, but there’s always a thin veneer of–whatever, I forgot–clinging to the enamel. She said it’s like looking at your windshield and thinking it’s clean until you run your finger over it.
What to do? Load up your toothbrush with the gritty stuff and polish, polish, polish.
I entitled this post “Writing Lessons from a Dental Hygienist.” Can you see where I’m going with it?
When you’ve finished writing your novel, you need to brush it with Crest and floss it with a waxed string. That’s the first edit, which checks all the big stuff–POV, characterization, description, story arc, character arc, dialogue, theme, plot, and on and on and on. What needs changing? What needs tweaking? What needs ripping out? What needs to be included? Is it clear? Is it gripping?
Finally, go through it one more time with the gritty stuff. Do your sentences flow easily? Does your thought process follow a logical procession? Have you chosen the strongest possible words? Have you word-painted a picture for your reader to see?
Line by line. There is no electrical device to speed up the process. Fortunately, though, by this time much of it will have been caught and corrected during the first edit. But now’s the time to polish off that final veneer of not-quite-rightness.
Then rise from the chair and stroll in the sunshine.