People ask me sometimes what it means to ‘polish’ a manuscript. The best analogy I can think of these days comes from real estate, now that I’m working in that business. It’s like staging a home.
You essentially go through a house before you get it ready for sale, fixing the things that don’t work and decluttering it. You remove what isn’t needed to reveal the house at its best. You edit down its contents, leaving behind only what is essential or beautiful.
Which is exactly what you do in polishing. Read each line of your manuscript. Does it advance the plot? If not, delete it. Does it leave the reader wondering what’s next, forcing him or her to keep reading? If not, delete it. Can you make the statement without the adjectives, or with only one instead of three? Delete the excess. Keep peeling away the unnecessary from your writing until you’re left with crisp, clean writing. And in the same way that a house that’s been decluttered and cleaned feels more inviting and bigger, so will your words.