Saturday, April 24, 2010

Hitting the DELETE key without fear: Cleaning up our Manuscripts

I'm working on the finishing touches in my edits/re-writes of SWEETIE, which will be released this fall. If you were to read the first version of my "first chapters and last chapters" you'd not at first recognize it as the same book.

Because I hit the DELETE key. Oh yes, I dragged, highlighted, and hit "DELETE" and it was good.

Here's the deal: when I first began writing years back, I thought (silly me) that everything I wrote had to stay pretty much as it was; that Real Writers were geniuses whose words were golden once they’d dripped from their golden fingers all from their golden minds and once they were out and onto the page they were gilded in gold and set for all time. I thought if I had to go in and change things, that meant I sucked as a writer since Real Writers had no need to make changes to their genius—oh dear! How could I have been so very very wrong?

As I learned, and quickly thank gawd, re-writes/edits are an important part of the writing process—no, a NECESSARY part. But, what I still resisted is going in and deleting big portions of my work. I’d freeze up, think, “But, I wrote all that and it took me a long time to craft all those words. But, that’s the story and I can't change my story! But, what I if can’t come up with something else? But, this is what the character did/does. But But But . . .” And then, I’d try to work around what I’d already written—ugh…bad. Because when we “work around” something, it shows. And, as well, sometimes when we try to "work around" something, we begin to dislike our own work; we find that it feels stagnant, or boring, or stilted, or "something just isn't right" and many times this is what some call "Writer's Block." Maybe "writer's block" means you need to go in and try that DELETE key.

Highlighting and then hitting the DELETE key frees us to write something else. Yes, it means we have to create more words/scenes, et cetera, but please believe me when I say it is worth it. Heck, highlight the text that isn’t working or is in the way or just sucks and then copy it to another file (or copy one version under one name and the new DELETED text version under another) and then go back to the work and DELETE. See what happens. Try it. You aren’t losing anything since you’ve saved that text, but, you will have a fresh clean space to write what could be the turning point in your novel, or a better beginning, better ending, or some of all.

In Sweetie, I deleted five chapters with just a tiny blink of an eye – D E L E T E D. Gone. I deleted the entire scenes, dialogue, everything. It changed the beginning and ending chapters significantly, and in fact, changed some other things, too, but it was worth it and some. The two chapters that I re-wrote to take the place of the five chapters fit better, are less complicated, are not as, well, boring. Yup, it was B O R I N G. Oh there were good parts, parts I really loved, parts that had poignancy and writing I was pleased with and happy with and oh oh oh!; however, every time I went in to work on Sweetie, those first chapters bored me, frustrated me, and I would stop working on it and go work on something else.

My friends, if your own work bores you or frustrates you or you find you just “aren’t in the mood” for it, then maybe it’s time to hit that D E L E T E and try something else, because if YOU are bored with it, your readers will be too--trust me. When I hit DELETE with Sweetie, it opened the way and I became excited about the work again—ahhh, yes, that was exactly what I needed to do.
It's not the first time I've deleted significant text: in the Secret Graces novel, I deleted about 30,000 words when I went back in to work on it after TG was released, because they were words I'd written before Tender Graces was released, and by time I came back round to SG, those 30,000 words no longer worked. D E L E T E! And it was goooood.

Learn to recognize when something isn’t working. Trust you instincts. And, don’t be afraid to hit the DELETE key. It just may be the very thing that brings your work to another level.

(I hope to be by your places tomorrow! I'm hard at work on SWEETIE so I an start on the next Graces novel!)


Karen said...

Oh, the delete key does scare me, but I've learned to get along with him. :)

Judith Mercado said...

Sometimes I think I am, first, an editor and, only secondly, a writer. I sure spend more time doing the former than the latter. I just deleted about 20k from one of my novels and reduced a short story by half. Yes, they're much better products.

Princess Haiku said...

The delete key can feel like jumping off of cliff! Informative and interesting post. Thanx. Do you really have a ghost dog?

Kathryn Magendie said...

Princess - I sure do - my old girl Kayla still hangs around the cove - at the foot of my bed - :)

Jessica Nelson said...

Kathryn!!! Awesome post. I love my delete key. I used to save everything deleted until I realized that I didn't even need it and never opened it. Now I just delete without fear because I know if I need something it's still inside of me and I can bring it out whenever.

So I have a Borders card and went online to get TG, but Borders was only carrying some fancy library edition. :-) Therefore, I have to wait to get TG until I have the mula, but if your publisher or you know of any good deals where I can buy both TG and SG, I'd love that! I've been waiting over a year now to read TG and I literally think of it every few days. Soo....let me know if you hear of any special deals. :-)

Hope you're having a lovely morning! Thanks for the great post!

Deb Shucka said...

Using Save As makes the delete key less scary. Then those beautiful words and phrases and pages still live - maybe just on my desktop, but at least I don't feel like I've killed them.

Cleaning up a manuscript is a lot like spring cleaning. It's so hard to let go of stuff, but feels so wonderful once we do. And everything sparkles in a way it couldn't before.

Terri Tiffany said...

I think we have that inkling inside us to do just that but we don't want to listen for all your above mentioned reasons. BUt you are so right--it does make the work better!

colbymarshall said...

I try not to be afraid...and it's usually better after cutting. But, oi- is it scary!! :-)