Writing, Rewriting, and … Hair?
     Ocieanna Fleiss

Who would’ve imagined a celebrity hairstylist could have something to teach me, a writer?

But when I was channel surfing a few months ago, I discovered just that. I landed on Blow Out, one of those goofy reality shows about a dude trying to make it as a hairdresser in Beverly Hills. He says silly things like, “I’m the sheriff of hair,” and “My kid is worth all the hair product in the world.”

But then he surprised me with something else. A novice hairdresser had asked him how he got started styling for celebrities. His answer? “Cut perfect hair.” Rather than chasing after the glitzy stuff, he pursued excellence—the perfect haircut. And success followed.

He’s onto something here.

If we expect publishers to take us seriously—and, more importantly, if we want our writing to impact others—we also need to cut perfect hair (metaphorically speaking).

Here are some styling tips:


You’ve pounded out your first draft. Go ahead, reward yourself with an iced mocha, but after your last slurp, it’s time to face facts — now the work really begins. I usually get the sad epiphany when I re-read my chapter one. It’s that sick feeling. “I thought this was good, but, uh oh, it’s a mess!” So the first thing is to wash. I’ve trained myself do this in one quick shampoo. Away go passive voice, prepositional phrases, adverbs, “to be” verbs, “there was,” “that,” repeated words, and anything else that leaves my prose dull and limp.

Rinse, Rinse, Rinse, and Condition

Now I can read my manuscript without feeling sick, but there’s still a lot to do. It’s time to look at the big picture.

In one book I edited, the author opened a scene with her character, Jane, “in a house.” In the next sentence, without reference to a shift in setting, Jane was gazing at the sunset from a veranda. (How’d she get outside?) Next, out of nowhere, a man’s voice started talking. (Where’d he come from?) When a boat floated by, (Were they overlooking the harbor?) I’d completely lost track of the scene.

The author may have pictured the situation clearly in his mind, but he failed to get it across to the reader (me!). His scene needed the cleansing water of an objective read through.

Rinse 1: Clarify facts left hanging or assumptions the reader can’t possibly know.

Rinse 2: Make sure your audience can “see” where your characters are, how they’re moving, what they’re feeling.

Rinse 3: Don’t forget to reveal your character’s motivations—how frustrating to plod through a book thinking, “Why’d she do that?”

Condition: Once you’ve rinsed out the perplexing, reinforce with strong, short descriptions to make your scenes shine.

The Cut

It hurts—I know it! But our hair is healthier and our writing sharper when we lose the dead ends. It’s frustrating (and depressing) to snip the sweet paragraphs we’ve so painstakingly crafted, but if we want our story to sparkle, we must examine scene after scene, shearing off the drivel.

Characters: We may have spent hours (months?) creating a character complete with subplot, back-story, and descriptions, but does this person make sense in the story? Is she just hanging around because you can’t let her go? You must cut.

Descriptions: Have we spent too many pages describing the café, the waitress, the tables, and the chocolate malt machine? Cut.

Layers and subplots: A writer friend recently cut a whole subplot from her suspense novel. Amazing! It was transformed into a congruent, easy to follow, and way more exciting story.


After the cut our novel should have decent structure. It just needs the finishing touches. For best results, start with the overall look and move to the tiniest strands.

1. Big picture. What major plot points or characters could have stronger impact? How can the funny parts grab a bigger laugh, the emotional focus pack more power, the suspense be more gripping?

2. Chapters. One by one, look at each as a unit. How can it be more effective? Does the reader want to keep reading?

3. Scenes. Does each have a beginning, middle, and end? Can you identify the conflict in each scene?  How can I improve it?

4. Paragraphs. Are they in easy-to-read lengths?  Does each have a complete thought?  Which can you cut?

5. Sentences. Are they fun to read?  Do you use the least words needed to make the biggest impact?  Do they sing in a particular voice?

6. Words. Have you chosen well?

Recently I decided to keep track of my false starts and re-do’s. Boy, was I surprised. For my current project, I’ve reworked chapter one twelve times, chapter two fourteen, and chapter three eight! Yet even now, when I read my labored-over chapters, I still wonder, Are they quite done? Maybe just one more little snip …. But the hard work is worth it if it results in the best hair I can write.

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About the Writer:

Ocieanna Fleiss has contributed to many publications including MOMSense Magazine, The Christian Communicator, Marketplace, Hearts at Home, and Guideposts for Kids. She has a bi-monthly column entitled “Fiction with Fleiss” in the Northwest Christian Author. She’s a freelance editor for award-winning fiction authors such as Tricia Goyer and Mike Yorkey and has also done substantive edits for Winepress Publications.