Delete Keys–a writer’s best friend

Over the past few months–since AQC started its new site–I’ve noticed an influx of new writers.  It is fun to see all the fresh ideas and ride the high of their excitement.  However, that excitement only lasts so long.

After a few swipes at their queries, they become frustrated by the sheer volume of rewrites that it takes to create the “perfect” query.  Even those who can provide amazing feedback to others will make the same rookie mistakes in their own letters (don’t we all?).

In the wake of watching others follow the query journey, I’ve been able to pinpoint (totally unscientifically, of course) three kinds of writers–nay, three editing styles.

  1. The practice of ignoring all commentary in a rewrite.  These writers will kindly thank others for their time and repost a query almost identical to the one they initially posted–without heeding any of the significant feedback that had been provided.  Writers of this editing style typically don’t stay long on AQ, and I often wonder how long they stick to writing in general.
  2. The practice of taking absolutely every comment and squishing them all into a revised query.  Writers who do this kindly thank others for their time and repost a query chock full of every last feedback tidbit within a span of five minutes.  The result is a query that has lost all individuality.  These dedicated souls will remain on AQ, diligently reposting query after query, month after month.  Some eventually move on to the third editing style.
  3. The practice of hitting delete and starting from scratch.  These writers kindly thank others for their time and seemingly go on hiatus for a week or two.  Suddenly, they reappear with a sparkling new query–one that goes in a completely different direction and has hints of feedback weaved nicely between the lines.  Even if these revisions need revised, they always come back substantially different–at least until all but the minor nitpicks are left.

I’ve found myself doing each of these things over the years, depending on the  project, my mood, the feedback or the alignment of the stars.  The point is, editing is an art, just like writing.  Yet as writers, we don’t always understand the sheer energy and focus that a good edit requires–or the mindset that goes into it.

Oh yeah, those and a willingness to hit the delete key.

Over the past year and a half on AQ, I’ve unofficially noticed that the majority of writers who stick around and eventually nab an agent are the ones who can kindly thank others for their feedback and walk away–only to emerge a week or two later with something new and fresh. 

The practice of deleting has made them stronger, more resilient writers.  They are not afraid to consider a new perspective.  They are confident enough in themselves to apply feedback artfully, not just as a whiplash reaction.  And they certainly realize that changing more than a word or two is what editing is all about.

Delete keys can be your friend.  In fact, they can be your best friend if you’re not afraid to use them.  Kill your darlings.  Forge a new path into your MC’s world.

Go ahead.  I dare ya!

What kind of editing style do you practice?  How do you incorporate the delete key into your writing life?  Are you so afraid of losing a beloved passage that you carry them around in your manuscript like a Sherpa toting water?

And in case this post makes you feel edgy, uncomfortable and a bit unworthy, know that I’ve been nursing a manuscript for VERY long time.  While the feedback has only been my own, I’ve been tentative at best about getting into the meat of my edit.  Not until yesterday’s Story Tree did I actually remember my long lost friend, Delete Key.

Trust me when I say it makes a difference.

17 responses to “Delete Keys–a writer’s best friend

  1. Ah, I love computers (and the delete key!), having come up during a time when manual typewriters were standard fare for aspiring writers.

    I can still see my teenage self plugging away at the typewriter and realizing that I wanted to change things substantially, but being discouraged by the unwieldy process required….

    Am I ever glad that I didn’t really plunge into the writing world until AFTER I had a computer…

    Yes, the delete key (and copy and paste) are our friends.

    Thanks for sharing….

    • Completely agree there. It must have been horrid to write back in the day. I change my mind more than I change my unders. I’d have used up ribbon and crumpled pages neck high in no time.

      Or, quite honestly, I likely would have quit writing. What a daunting task to rewrite everything based on one small change. Of course, writers back then were maybe more thoughtful and less impulsive.

      Although I still love my Granny’s old manual typewriter that sat at the foot of the stairs in the entryway. Each of us grandkids would pluck away at the keys just to watch the ribbon speed by.

  2. I use a copy and paste first, saving big sections of my manuscript to a backup file just in case. Then I use the delete key. It’s a comfort to know that I can retrieve the junked stuff, even though I rarely do.

    • Again, way more organized than I am. I literally slash them out and don’t look back. Of course, about every third or fourth edit I print a copy, so they are floating around somewhere on a piece of paper just waiting for their moment to be retrieved!

  3. As I rewrite and edit my MS the delete key has become my best friend. And this is before other people have even looked at my MS. Even passages and scenes I loved when first developed have not been exempt from changes, if not full on “deletion” from the story.

    I put deletion in quotation marks b/c I do save some scenes on the off chance they might fit into a later book in the series I’m writing. Maybe I just thought of them too soon. ;p

    • “Maybe I just thought of them too soon.” I love this.

      I’m going to post this by my computer. Thanks for inspiration and input!

    • elisa, I do that too! save failed plot lines to separate files, just in case they merit being revisited at a later date. “Maybe I just thought of them too soon” is a perfect way to look at it!

      • I agree. Too soon is such a great way to think of those not-quite-right plot lines. It makes it seem as if we still accomplished something along the way!

  4. Darlings? Yeah, I think my Sherpa tracker’s carrying them… Great post, seriously. I’ve always thought I was willing to cut and hone anything to perfection – until the last 5,000 words I cut. Damn, they were some of the most beautiful passages. I quite literally made a grown man cry with one of them and it made me cry to remove it, but it’s gone and the book is tighter. I also never kill my darlings. They’re there. Maybe for the movie…. LOL

    • Victoria,

      It’s always the last few that hurt the most, as they are the ones you’ve courted with each swipe of the delete button. I’d love to read the words that made a grown man cry. In fact, from everything I know about your manuscript, I’d love to read the whole thing.

      I hope all is going well in your writing and that someday I’ll be blessed with a hardcover in my hands!

  5. I am very cozy with my delete key . . . but I keep an electronic file of every editing run. I don’t print paper copies until I’m in to the nitpicky polishing phase, either, because I am too good at losing paper things. But I always know where my computer and thumb drive are located. 😀

    I don’t know if I’m good at much else, but I am VERY good at killing my darlings. Having that copy of the original, and edit number one, and edit number two, and so on makes it easier–because if I regret it, I can always go back and find the scene in the previous edit.

    So I guess my darlings are never really dead, just buried very deep. Poor things.

    • Perfect, you just send them to purgatory to await a mass recall if needed!

      I love it. The Undead Darlings.

      Oooh, I think I just came up with a new book title! Or an article at the very least. LOL.

      Subtitle: A Writer’s Guide to Killing Their Darlings–Kinda.

  6. You know, I commented on a bunch of posts, and I think the internet ate them all. Please just assume I was wonderfully witty and insightful. Also, I am very happy you are back.

    • I love you, Michelle. I got them all. No hungry cyber monster here. I just had to approve them for some odd reason.

      Rest assured, I thought you were as witty and insightful as you wanted me to assume you were!

      Sheesh, how’s that for a convoluted sentence?

  7. Cat, you’re so sweet! Thanks for the lovely comment. Things are going ok. I received one extraordinarily helpful rejection recently that’s helped me see things from a better business perspective. Rewriting the query AGAIN.

    • I’m not sure rewriting is ever done, Victoria.

      While it’s not fun to garner a rejection, it is nice when you get personal feedback that can help shape the next rewrite. Best luck with it.

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