Courage to Delete

I have a hard time deleting things. In fact, such a hard time that as I rewrite novels … I just start a completely new document and rarely use any of the original story. I don’t revise, I rewrite.

At first, I thought I did this because I was learning things as a writer with each MS, so it made sense to not try to sift through all those old mistakes and fix them, but rather start all the way over, and for many of these stories that was necessary.

But, I think part of it was more that fear of deleting words I’d written. Not because I necessarily loved them, but more because I hated the idea of waste. I’d spent time crafting those words… wasn’t it just a complete waste of time to delete them.

In my head, I knew that wasn’t true. From studying writing, I knew that sometimes you had to write certain things to get to another point, and then delete those words. I knew that, but… it was still hard. And, since it was hard, I found ways to avoid it without acknowledging that’s what I was doing.

I think the best antidote for this was finding an invaluable critique partner. When it was just me–no feedback–I could convince myself something worked (or might work) even when deep down I knew it didn’t.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that when I feel something doesn’t work… it usually doesn’t. That doesn’t mean it’s worthless, and it might need to be changed in ways I never would have imagined, but it doesn’t totally work.

If it won’t work for me, it won’t work for the reader. One of the first quotes about writing that I remember memorizing and posting around myself was the Robert Frost quote, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

And yet sometimes, I still find myself thinking… well, maybe it will work even though I don’t think it will.

It doesn’t.

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