Not My Preciousssssss!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Since I’ve been busy submitting book queries lately, I’ve been more into the revision process of writing instead of creating new stuff. So, when I heard Tessa McDermid (author published by Avalon and Harlequin) was going to give a talk about writing revisions at a somewhat local writer’s group, I HAD to go. And listening to her was indeed a smart thing for me to do.

I have to say the most helpful piece of advice I came away with was, “you are not married to your words.” They can always be changed. Nothing in your story has to be permanent. Taking them out might be the hardest thing to do, but sometimes giving up a darling word, phrase, or chapter MUST be done... for the greater good.

There have been times, I've turned all Gollum where I'll clutch my manuscript to my chest, stroking the lovely words with a tender caress and cooing, "My precioussss." But, honestly, they're just words. Who's to say the next one you come up with won't be even better, stronger, more meaningful. So, you gotta be open to change. Yes, you must.

This is easier said than done though. So, I've learned a nifty little trick, which I'll share now. My secret is: Delete nothing. Deleting that precious word or phrase or chapter means it's gone forever. You'll never get it back. But... cutting it out of your current document and pasting it into a new one, then saving it to a file labeled "Outtakes" or some such name, means it's still out there, easy to be retrieved and stroked and caressed again! This way, you know you can always go back to your precious... if you need to. Sometimes, I have gone back and slotted an "outtake" somewhere else in my story, but a majority of the time, I never go back. And the story is honestly better without it.

So, don't be afraid to "test" the story without a line or phrase or chapter that really needs to go. You might just be surprised how good it improves the book.

Now, I gotta know... am I the only one out there that gets attached to words and phrases and has a hard time letting them go? What are some of your tricks to saying goodbye to a precious piece of your writing?


  1. The cutting and pasting thing is a GREAT idea. I am a deleter and I've had a few times when I've deleted something and then realized I needed it somewhere else later.

  2. Thank you. I learned the hard way.

  3. Hey! She stole my name...well, almost ;)

    And, yes, murdur those darlings.

    One of my favorite quotes says:

    "I used to think every word that managed to squeeze itself from my pen was immortal. Turns out they are all disposable. What a relief." by Tom Howe

    it's a keeper!

  4. I have a delete file for every manuscript. May not be very functional, but it works for me. And those lines I usually can't fit in find a home later. What is really great is when I put them in and sometimes they get modified just enough to sound even better!

  5. Excellent advice. I also have a cuts folder. A couple times I actually used a few of the cut sections later.

    My favorite book (not what I wrote) had been abridged about 400 words. I love that version. It was so popular the publisher later put out the unabridged version with those words back. Most of the stuff originally taken out should have been out. The story was much better without them.

  6. Tess -- She did kinda steal your name, since it's her pen name. And thank you so much for the quote. I hadn't heard it before. But I love it.

    Jackie -- Sounds like you do pretty much what I do. Glad I'm not alone.

    And Ashley -- The publisher really put some of your "cut" words back into a manuscript? Wow. I'd never heard of that before. But, that's cool you were that popular to get both an abridged and unabridge version.