Making friends with the DELETE key.

“There is a difference between a book of two hundred pages from the very beginning, and a book of two hundred pages which is the result of an original eight hundred pages. The six hundred are there. Only you don’t see them.”
~Elie Wiesel

Guess what, y’all? I write. A lot. Too much. Perhaps way too much.

I know, I know, that must come as an overwhelming shock. After all, I’ve done such a good job of hiding my adoration for the craft on here. But seriously, I don’t think I realized just how never-ending that passion is until last week. It normally takes me two and a half months to write a first draft, but with this book, it took four and a half. That’s partly because of everything that’s happened this year, but mostly because I just COULD NOT STOP telling this story. If thousand-page books were the norm, I easily could have fulfilled that this time around. Because it’s written in diary-style, with no entry longer than six pages, it was easy to fool myself into thinking that they wouldn’t add up as quickly. When you’re used to chapters that are ten pages in Word – or more – this seemed like nothing in comparison. “What’s an extra entry or two?” I’d think. “It’s only a couple pages, and it’s necessary for the story.”

The thing about those extra entries, though, is that they do add up. Part of me realized it as I was writing, but once I dove into edits last week … whoa, boy, did a light bulb go off. Actually, it was more like a flashing neon sign: YOU WRITE TOO MUCH. THAT MAKES MORE WORK FOR YOURSELF DURING THE REVISION PROCESS. WHY DID YOU THINK THIS WAS SMART?

Maybe it wasn’t the smartest. Maybe, when it comes down to it, entire entries will have to be scrapped. Maybe (read: definitely) these edits are going to take double the amount of time as with my other books. A few years ago, that would have unnerved me. With my first novel, the DELETE key was my enemy. Watching the cursor sail along the screen, taunting me as it erased my heartfelt words, was like a slap in the face. How could I delete phrases? Sentences? Gasp – paragraphs? It was really tough at first. But I slowly came to see that tightening the story only improved it. The next time around? I wasn’t quite so afraid to scrap sections that weren’t necessary. Just because a scene can be in a book doesn’t mean it should be. They need to have a purpose. They need to advance the plot, the journey, the characters’ growth. And yes, it’s different with this third book because I wrote it in a new (for me) style, but in a way, I think that’s helping me see it in a more objective light. I no longer fret about deleting paragraphs. I no longer hesitate with my finger poised on the BACKSPACE key. I no longer spend ten minutes deliberating whether or not to keep a single sentence. I’m much better able to zero in on what’s essential and what’s not, and I have no problem scrapping words that don’t need to be there.

I am two-thirds of the way through my first round of edits – it’s taking much longer this time because I’m being much more strict – and have already trimmed the manuscript by thirty-four pages. That’s something like 12,000 words. TWELVE THOUSAND. I think I’d have cried over that a couple years ago. But now I know the book is better for it, Sofie’s journey is tighter for it, and as a writer, I’ve grown from it. This manuscript was nowhere near the eight hundred pages Elie mentions in the quote above, and when finished it’ll be longer than two hundred, but the idea is the same. Part of being a writer is knowing when to cut the cord and break away from things you’ve written. Sure, it’s nice to clutch them close, but embracing a story doesn’t mean digging your heels in and refusing to change it. There is always room for improvement. There is always space to grow. And there are always things to delete. It’s not throwing out words. It’s reworking them, weaving them between the lines so that they’re still there. It’s telling the best story you can and doing right by your characters in the process. And you know what? It’s fun. It’s invigorating. It’s exciting.

This manuscript will go through several rounds of revisions before it’s finished. I’ll have to part with a lot more, and that’s okay. I’m looking forward to seeing where it takes the characters. Writing will always be my favorite part of the process – and I will forever be grateful to this particular cast of characters for being a true salvation for me these past few months – but I’ve come to see that editing’s not all bad. It’s actually kind of freeing. Sometimes we have to toss aside the puzzle pieces that are cluttering the framework so that all the others can fit into place.

But that scene I wrote with the character who channeled Mr. Whistler? That stays. Hee.


17 thoughts on “Making friends with the DELETE key.

  1. So I have to know: exactly how many words long was your first draft?
    As for having trouble deleting, two things help me. 1) I always save my various drafts so I can go back and pull stuff out again if I deleted it but end up needing it again. 2) If I delete something I really like, I put it in a separate file so I can use it in something else later. I never actually do that, of course, but it makes me feel better when I think that I might.

    • I’m doing the same thing with DE, saving each draft as a separate file. It’s the first time I’ve approached edits that way, and I have to say, it really brings an added ease, knowing the original writing is still there. Not that I’m planning to put it back in, but still ….

  2. This post is making me more excited to read the sequel! I don’t write, but I can definitely sympathize with how it would feel to delete words and phrases that you feel you took so much time into and then they’re not there anymore. I’m glad you are moving on from that though and realize the story is sometimes better without those unnecessary scenes!

    Good luck with the rest of the edit :)

    • I’m looking forward to hearing what you think. As always, thank you so much for wanting to read. And yes, it’s definitely tough sometimes to delete words (or – yikes – whole sections) that I put so much into, but it helps to know that the story is stronger for it.

      Thanks again! :)

    • (Side note: the storm knocked out our power for an hour and a half, hence the delay in responses!)

      Oh my gosh, YES. I remember reading Moby Dick in twelfth grade English – took me FOREVER to get through it. To this day, it stands out as one of my least favorite books ever. It could have benefited from MANY edits!

  3. I can only imagine how difficult it is to remove things that you have written and go through and make all of those edits. Just think though, by removing those sentences or words, you are bringing yourself closer and closer to having a published book! So exciting!! :)

    • It can definitely be tough sometimes – especially if it’s a scene I loved writing but one that really doesn’t need to be in the book – but I try to look at it from exactly the perspective you said. Each day of work is a step closer to having a finished draft that will hopefully be published one day. Oh, how I hope! :)

  4. I feel like this is one of our favorite topics for discussion lately. :] This entry just shows how much you’ve grown as a writer over the past few years. Deleting your work is always hard at first, I think because it seems so cold and final, like once it’s gone, it’s gone. Once you realize that’s not true, that you can go back to your old draft and put it back in if you really want to, then you feel much more free with the DELETE key.
    Congrats on how far you’ve come with your edits so far, and I can’t wait to read the story I’ve been hearing about for so long once you’re done! :]

    P.S. I think this is one of my favorite entries of yours! It’s so true and so relatable, especially with all the edits I’ve had to do while simultaneously writing RFC. The DELETE key is now one of my closest friends. :p

    • Take two – the power went out AGAIN last night as I was replying (and stayed off until 5:00 AM – so fun).

      You know, I credit a lot of my willingness to dive into edits full throttle to you … all our chats about it, and seeing how you’re willing to change things around, switch them up, and totally rework if need be … it inspired me! It definitely helps to realize no revision is ever final, I agree. Like you said, it gives you the freedom to delete more widely.

      I just finished the first edit this morning (!!) and am super excited for you to read the finished version. It makes me smile that you’re looking forward to it.

      P.S. I give you so much credit for simultaneously writing RFC & editing KS. It must be a challenge to focus on both at once!

  5. Pingback: Organized Chaos. |

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