Monday, June 24, 2013

When in Doubt, DELETE

Okay, so if there's anything I've learned over the past five years, it's this: The delete key is your friend. There's nothing "darling" about words that don't work, and if you're not sure if they're working or not, chances are, they're not.

My philosophy in this situation? Delete.

When my critique partners start asking me questions about a specific sentence or passage, and I can't answer? Delete.

When my plot is feeling too heavy and convoluted? Delete.

When a chapter needs to be rewritten? Delete it all, and start from blank pages.

I have deleted entire portions of many of my novels in the past. In POSSESSION, I completely wiped out several chapters, creating a Point A and a Point B. I then rewrote a new way to get from A to B.

And you know what? It was better. It worked.

In another of my as-yet-unpublished novels, I deleted about 25,000 (that is not a typo) words--the last 1/3 of the novel. I can hear some of you going, Why? Why would you do that? Didn't you save some of them? What if there was a particularly brilliant sentence?

The truth is, the ending wasn't working, and I couldn't see how it could work with all that black on the page. So I deleted it.

As for combing through the work to find that one awesome piece, I guess I just don't care. I suppose that if I did write one brilliant sentence that might be worth saving, I could write another equally fantastical sentence to take it's place.

In fact, I'm not going for just one sentence. I'm looking to make each word the right one, each sentence more compelling, each scene vital to the overall workings of the book.

And if it's not working... Delete.

So yes, whenever I'm in doubt, I delete. Have you done this? How do you feel about the delete key?

18 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

That's my motto too, especially when something seems too hard to fix. That's usually a sign it needs to go.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I love the delete key, maybe too much. I have the same philosophy as you -- if it's not working the way you want it to, it's got to come out. Plus, I love watching the word count drop. Wheee!

Kristine Nielson said...

I can't delete. I have no problem writing a chapter multiple times (so I'll have chapter 4, 4a, and 4b and on up sometimes) but I can't delete. I realize the distinction may be a silly one since I start fresh with each version, but I have to keep all of my words, even if it creates a veritable garden of forking paths in the directory.

SA Larsenッ said...

I'm with you. The longer I write, the more friendly I become with my delete button. It really can be our advocate. Sometimes the answer out of a writing hole is to wipe the slate clean.

JeffO said...

I just got new feedback on the first 30 pages of one of my manuscripts. One of the comments pointed out some repetition that I had missed, along with excessive meandering. I applied that to the rest of the manuscript and ended up chopping a good 4000 words out of the story (Well, maybe they weren't good words after all). This is after multiple passes through this novel with several other readers, mind you.

It really doesn't hurt as much as you think it will.

Teresa Coltrin said...

Very good advice if not painful to read. :)

Angela Brown said...

I also tend to delete when something isn't working, especially when I get echoed mentions of an issue. Definitely delete. At that point, it's understood what isn't working so the next move is toward what does work...after the delete.

Laura Rueckert said...

I just deleted 22,000 words from my WIP. Hurt like H-E-double-hockey-sticks but it really had to go.

Nicole said...

Yup. I've done it. I'll also cut out entire sections and dump 'em into a brand new document so I can completely rework them. It gives me a fresh perspective and the freedom to hack and slash as needed!

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

I totally agree. The Delete key is my friend. Thanks for the great advice.

Denise Covey said...

It's not always easy to do, but necessary. Delete...yea.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Deleting is sometimes necessary.

Julia said...

I feel like this delete key is for me both a blessing and a curse, because I am much too fond of rewrites in general...

Stasia said...

I find the delete key scary but essential. If I think about it long enough to write more, my head might explode. But maybe it's because I'm at "THAT" point in the new ms. I'll love the "d" word again when I stop counting words and start revising :)

ilima said...

You are my hero. I cannot do this, but I will save things in another document I am no longer using because I guess I need physical proof of All That Work. Cynthia Leitich Smith writes a book, then deletes the whole thing, dragging it to the trash and emptying the trash. Then she writes the whole thing over again. She does this for every book she writes. You and her are proof that writers are insane. Haha.

Kim Webb Reid said...

This is one of the many things you said at WIFYR that has stayed with me. I have a "junk" folder where I paste things I've deleted if I'm afraid there's something in there I'll need later, but I rarely look at half the stuff in that file again.

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KQuintana said...

I use my delete key, but I still have a hard time completely losing my work. I always keep a copy of each draft, and even if I never read them again, at least I know that the're there.

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