The delete button is both the writer’s best friend and worst enemy. It gets the best friend nod for saving us from being stuck with every little (or lotta) bit of dreck we happen to write. (Can you imagine the mess we’d have at the end of a manuscript if we had to keep every single word we put on paper? Can you imagine the crippling pressure whenever you wrote one of those words?)
But that doesn’t mean the delete button is without its downfalls.
Today, we continue with our month-long series of text and video posts discussing some of the writing (and life) lessons I learned while writing my upcoming fantasy novel Dreamlander (available December 2). And one of the biggest of those lessons was also one of the simplest:
Never ever delete.
Never ever EVER delete.
Let me repeat that just to make sure everyone in the cheap seats can hear:
NEVER DOGGONE EVER DELETE!
How to Delete Without Actually Deleting
So, now that we’ve got that cleared up, let me note that I am actually aware of the total contradiction there. Delete, but don’t delete. How exactly is that supposed to work?
Well, as you’ve probably already figured out (being among the top percentile of clever blog readers, of course), there are ways and means of secretly stashing all the ugly lovelies we’re forced to delete from our manuscripts for one reason or another.
Mostly (okay, so entirely) these ways boil down to a task every bit as arduous as creating and copy/pasting into a new file. Since all self-respecting writers are supposed to be imaginative in naming things, I call my file “Deleted Data.” Killer, right?
But you know what’s really killer about it?
Its size. Dreamlander’s finished draft weighed in at 181,000 words. Wanna take a guess on the size of my delete file (or, actually, three delete files, by the time all was said and done)?
Try this on for size: 191,000 words.
In other words, the stuff I deleted from the book makes a bigger book than the book itself.
At first glance, that sounds like all kinds of painful. But let me put this in perspective with a few qualifiers.
1. Some of those words are duplicates, since certain sections were actually deleted more than once.
2. Some of those words actually made it in to the book. I cut them, put them back in, and never took them out of the delete file.
3. It’s also true, however, that some of my deleted data never made it into the file at all, either through an oversight on my part or just sheer laziness.
But suffice it that I have saved a Godzilla-sized file of throwaway words. And that file has saved me a ton of work.
Three Reasons a Delete File Saves Writers Work
1. Deleting hard-won, beloved words is tough. Removing them to a separate file allows you to take them out of your manuscript without losing them entirely. It eases the pain of separation and makes killing those darlings just a little bit easier.
2. Sometimes writers change their minds. Have you ever written a chapter, condemned it as junk while in a bad mood, and deleted it, only to realize that—whoops!—you just made a major mistake? By the time Dreamlander was finished, several scenes I had abandoned early on in the process had made their way back into the book. Had I permanently deleted them, I would have been forced to start entirely from scratch.
3. Just because a scene (or part of a scene) didn’t work doesn’t mean it might not be handy for the sake of reference. Remembering I wrote a particular sentence, only to be unable to find it in my manuscript, can be frustrating. But if I can also search my deleted data, I have a much better chance of convincing myself I’m not so loony as my cats sometimes think.
Bottom line: delete files are a safety net. And in a journey as potentially perilous as writing, why not take a few easy precautions to save yourself time and stress later on?
Don’t forget to vote for which prize you’d like to win in the Dreamlander Launch Party Grand Prize Drawing on December 2!
Tell me your opinion: Do you keep a delete file?
Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in iTunes).