Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Don't Be Afraid to Delete

Last week, I was working on a short story for an anthology submission. The ideas started flowing and so did the words. I wrote about half the story in one sitting and was pretty content. Until I went to sleep.


Before drifting off, a thought popped into my head. I wasn't using the right MC. I was telling the story from a male's POV, and when I cleared my mind and got ready for bed, I realized I needed a female. Okay, not too big a deal. I could tweek the voice and change the character while still keeping the plot and much of what I'd already written. I was pretty content. Until I woke up in the morning.


I did a little more research for the story and realized that the MC wasn't the only problem. I needed to change the plot. For a moment, I hesitated. This would mean completely starting over. Deleting all the words I'd written and starting from scratch. A lot of work.


I opened a new document and got writing. Did I think about those lost words? Maybe once or twice, but in the end, I'm glad I started over. The story needed it. It's better because of it.


So the lesson I learned is no writing is truly wasted. I had to write the first version to figure out I was on the wrong track. And once I got on the right track, the ideas took off.


Are you afraid to press delete or start over? Do you find yourself being married to your words?

68 comments:

  1. Great post. My current work in progress has come through a whole range of incarnations to end up as the version it's currently portraying. All those previous lives have shown me the way.

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you've found your way with your WIP. :)

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  2. I do a lot of deleting. When I relax, my mind plays over the story and better ideas occur to me, so I change them. Sometimes I go back to the original, but usually the new ideas are the best. Great topic.

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    1. Same here. New ideas are what I tend to stick with.

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  3. Ahhh! I hate delete, but I'm slowly getting over it. Great post, and a great reminder.

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    1. I used to hate to delete, too. It's hard at first.

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  4. Used to be. Used to cling to every one of my words - they had been born of such pain, such effort, how could I give them up?

    The more I write, the more my confidence grows that I WILL find more words, that the right words will come when I need them.

    I think, too, of athletes. People who run marathons train in lots of ways, they don't just ONLY run marathons, and all the sprints, mid-length races, weight training, etc., all helps them be ready for the main event - it's never energy or effort wasted.

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    1. Nicely put!

      I think since I started fast drafted a year ago, it's become easier to realize that what I first draft might not be the best. It's easier to let words go if they poured out of you quickly and you haven't labored over them like when you write slower and consider each word carefully up front.

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  5. It's even harder to delete 4 or 5 entire chapters! :)

    Alas, we have to try and try again in order to get better at the craft.

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    1. Yes, that is tough, but having rewritten an entire novel twice, I know I could do it. ;)

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  6. This is an important post, Kelly. Fear to delete, in my case, is more a fear of abandoning a story altogether. Some stories need shelving, but I find that harder than anything.
    Nice way you used 'sleep on it' here.

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    1. I've abandoned stories. Sometime you have to. You hate to do it, but no writing is wasted. It's a learning/growing experience.

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  7. No, I don't find myself married to words, just frustrated when I know they aren't right. I get so impatient with myself when I go to town writing a story and then half way through I realize it isn't working and I need to start over. Ugh, although it's usually worth it in the end, I still hate starting all over!!

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    1. Yes, it's frustrating but totally worth the effort.

      Delete
  8. I must admit I'm not so great at deleting. It takes me a lot of times going over and over the WIP to ultimately delete all that should be deleted. I guess the good thing is that I eventually get there! Thanks for the reminder!

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    1. I've heard some people copy what they delete into a separate document because it makes them feel better about getting rid of it. It's not really completely gone. You might want to try that.

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    2. Great topic, Kelly. Skimming comments and saw myself. I would copy and paste deleted parts into another document. Thinking back, I seldom used any part of that file. Interesting! Time to pitch old work. :)

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    3. Maybe it is time. It interesting that you never used it. I guess we like to hold on to things, just in case. ;)

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  10. Oh Kelly, I am in the thick of this very thing today. I was up until midnight working hard on a contest entry due today and I realized overnight that I need to re-write about half of it. Ugh. I don't want to, but know I'll have a much better chance of winning with the changes. I'll be busy today.

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    1. Good luck, Cindy! I hope you get that piece to shine today!

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  11. I'm not afraid to delete. I save everything, so if I decide I really needed something I got rid of, I still have it saved in a different folder.

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    1. Yes, I know others who do that too. :)

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  12. I still can't bring myself to delete. I'll rework a story, but I keep copies of each draft. Sometimes I find that even if the story as a whole didn't work out, there's something -- a scene or a description or a character -- that I recycle later. I'm a draft hoarder!

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    1. I've pulled ideas from deleted works. It's a great way to feel like that story made it to somewhere. :)

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    2. Exactly! I don't want to toss the baby with the bath water, as it were.

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  13. I used to have that problem but now I have no trouble deleting like pages of my work. I realized if I'm even considering changing it, that means it needs to go. Plus, I can use the sections I deleted as spare parts and put them in another story.

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  14. That's one of those cardinal rules, right? Kill your darlings. Writing gets stronger when we do.

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  15. It can be hard to just start over when it took a long time to have what you did in the first place.

    But I need to do that more often than I do.

    Unlike some Type-A folks I know, this gets harder, not better, the older I get. I must be weird that way.

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    1. It is hard to do, but I've done it about three times now. Twice with the same manuscript and since it did end up selling, I know it was worth it.

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  16. I delete a lot but it makes what I leave much better!

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  17. I am with you! Sometimes it is necessary to get rid of what I wrote and start fresh. I think the first words/pages help to make the new writing crisper and better. It is a little painful to think of all of the work that is lost- but when I think of it as part of the idea process it isn't so bad.

    ~Jess

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Yes, it is part of the process. That's what we have to remember. Each part is important to the whole, whether it ends up in the final version or not.

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  18. That's one of my main problems - falling in love with my own words. I'm getting better now and pretend I'm an editor. If it isn't relevant, dump it.

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    1. Good for you! It's great that you have been able to make yourself have that mindset.

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  19. I wouldn't say I'm afraid to start over or delete. My last WIP I rewrote 15k words because I wasn't happy with it. Did I want to? No. But it was necessary so I did it.

    I do fall in love with words, but I usually figure out how to use the ones I cut later on or in another WIP with some tweaking. So I don't think twice about hitting delete and starting over.

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    1. I've rewritten, saved and used later, and just plain deleted. Whatever was necessary for the story.

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  20. I sometimes whine a little about deleting, but most of the time I know it's the right thing to do. It only hurts for a second!

    And I agree, it's never wasted. Even if you only learned a negative from it (don't do that, don't go that way), your writing gets better the more you do it.

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    1. Yes! You can definitely learn from what doesn't work. That's a big part of becoming a better writer.

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  21. The closest I've ever come is deleting an entire scene from my book. It was the right thing to do, but I really struggled with the decision leading up to it.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. That can be tough, but I'm glad you did what was best for the MS in the end.

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  22. I'm getting much better at deleting or starting over when necessary. I just cut a HUGE chunk of a story and didn't even break out in a flop sweat. Progress!

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    1. Yay! LOL. It does get easier to do over time.

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  23. Gosh, never. I save everything I write and know that one day I'll have a use for some or all of it in something else. What surprises me to be honest, is how I remember something I wrote and didn't use later. I like this about my mind. On top of this, whenever I finish a piece, I go through it a cut 10 percent before I start on the edit clean up.

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    1. It's funny because when I revise my work, I cut a lot but I add a lot too. It sort of balances out. ;P

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  24. I can, and have, started over from scratch -- but it's probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to do in writing.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. I hear you--having done it twice. It's hard but worth it in the end.

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  25. I used to be terrified of starting over. I felt like I had wasted my time and words, so I tried to make things work. Now I'm not afraid to rewrite, either doing major revisions or starting again from scratch.

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  26. I find it much easier now. I used to cut and paste everything into another file, in case I could use it again. But now I tend to just delete.
    Xx

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    1. I mostly just delete too. There are rare occasions where I think I might use something again in a slightly different way, but most of the time, I just delete.

      Delete
  27. So true! I've found that the longer I've been a writer, the more confident I am with that delete button. Because whatever genius thing I think I wrote usually needs reworking anyway. And the longer I chew over an idea, the more angles I can look at it from and the fuller it becomes. Which means...I delete and add, and it's only very rarely that I use something from a file I so desperately thought NEEDED to be saved.

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    1. LOL. I've been there, too. Why do we hold on to things we know will just sit in that file?

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  28. I always end up deleting tons of stuff. With every book, I wind up throwing away about as much as I keep of my first drafts. And my second drafts....

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    1. Wow, just as much? I've never really kept track, but I don't think I delete that much unless I do a major rewrite. Then I delete more than I keep, if I keep anything at all!

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  29. That's the case for me many times as well! Whenever I write my essay, or come up with an extremely beautiful paragraph only to realize I was on the wrong track, I'll feel very reluctant to delete all my hard work without a trace! But I will rewrite if I have to, only that the clinging side of me will still use some words/phrases/ideas that I refuse to give up from the first draft!

    -Alicia
    bookaworld.wordpress.com

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    1. Funny how we try to trick ourselves by keeping a few things like that, isn't it?

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  30. I'm not a writing,but I have a lot of respect for them.The only thing I write are reviews for books, and that in itself is hard to me. I'm always deleted and starting over, because I want to show the book in it's best possible light.I know how much work authors put into writing a story so I want to return the favor with a great review .

    To the authors I commend you for writing, and having the courage to delete something that take a lot of time to write in order to perfect your work :D

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    1. That's really great of you to do. I love that you understand the author's hard work. I like honest reviews, but I hate to see an author get slammed because reading is subjective.

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  31. I'm not afraid to delete now. If you'd asked me a year ago, I would have started to cry. Back then, a CP highly suggested me delete a full chapter that I loved, loved, loved. I was upset for a little bit, but then realized it didn't push the plot forward. At all. And that's why she told me it had to go.
    Even going through my last revision of my first book, I deleted an entire chapter. It wasn't needed.
    No need to be afraid. Books have to become the book they are meant to be. If starting over is required then do it. :D

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    1. I agree. Sometimes the delete button can be our best friend.

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  32. I've made some deletions as I've gone along polishing things up. When something's detracting from the plot, it should go, but the material itself may still have some use in another way.

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    1. That's very true. I've found uses for deleted material, not all the time, but sometimes.

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  33. I cheat. I cut and save. I find it hard to delete.

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    1. You still are deleting though, even if you save what you delete.

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