Letting Go of Good Words

Letting Go of Good Words

Facebook is crowded with funny cat videos, boasting parent brags, and modern-day chain letters, not to mention pithy one-liners, tear-jerking tales, and off-color jokes. Amidst all that social “noise” we can no longer imagine life without, every now and again, some wonderful Facebooker shares a truly inspirational thought. Recently, a poster-worthy piece of advice crossed my feed:

Don’t cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.


No doubt this is a valuable piece of life advice, but for me, it resonates as a pearl of writing wisdom.

Let me paint a picture. A diligent, enthusiastic writer, hunched over her keyboard, fingers flying. The story seems to be writing itself. The writing is so evocative, the plot so compelling that Ms. Author is fighting back tears. Oh, man. This is it. Literary gold.

Or how about this scene, which is probably more familiar to most of us: A determined yet frustrated writer slouches over her keyboard, fighting for each word she transfers from brain to page. The writing is crap, but she assures herself everything can be fixed with a good edit. The plot starts out kind of wishy-washy, and then – bang! – something finally clicks into place. Suddenly, the writing is slightly less painful, the author’s doubt slightly less overwhelming.

Each of these scenarios represents a chunk of writing time, and as writers we’re thrilled to have upped our word counts. So what do we do when we realize all that time – and all those beautiful words – aren’t making the story stronger?

Unfortunately, this is where we must dig deep and take Dr. Laura’s advice, or rather, a paraphrased, writing-related relative of Dr. Laura’s advice.

Not every hard-earned, creativity-fueled word deserves to make your story’s final edit. Sometimes, you have to let good words go.

Let me go on record here as being one-hundred percent in support of whatever emotional crutch you may need to get through the rest of this process. Chocolate, wine, whining, ice cream, thirty minutes with a heavy bag. Do what you need to do. Writing is hard, and sometimes, you’ve gotta take the edge off to survive in this world.

Deleting – a word, a sentence, a scene, heck entire chapters – is a harsh but necessary part of the writing process. I wish I could cite evidence that proves that a) deleting gets easier over time, or b) when you become more experienced, you’ll have your process down pat and no longer have to face deletion. Unfortunately, I can’t. Negative word count sucks, but unfortunately, it comes with the territory.

A scroll of the mouse and single click of a button and suddenly, you’re much further from THE END than you were two seconds ago.

Or are you?

Certainly, you’ve lost words, but before you lose heart, let’s see what you may have gained.

Was your recently cut scene a childhood memory? Then you’ve likely gained knowledge of what makes your character tick. Maybe those words weren’t meant for the finished product, but anything that puts you deeper into the skin of your character is not a waste of creativity. Think of the books on your keeper shelves. Are they there because you love the plot twists or because you fell for the characters and wanted to see them to their happy ending? I’m willing to bet it’s love of character that made all those keepers sing for you.

Perhaps the scene you had to cut was an unexpected plot tangent that didn’t actually move your story forward. This happens to me a lot, but never fear. There could easily be future gains to be found in these “unnecessary” words.

Whenever you have to remove a chunk of text from your Work in Progress, don’t delete it. Cut it and paste it into a holding file. I call mine Leftovers. That plot tangent might not work in this story, but it might just be the perfect turn for your next story. By preserving those words rather than trashing them, you can call them back up in the future and put them to better use.

Everyone’s writing process is different, but deleting words from your manuscript is a universal writer’s truth. The trick is to spin that temporary downsizing into a positive. All writing effort is worthwhile, so find the upside and keep on putting good words on the page. Trust me, you’ll get to keep enough of them to make it to THE END.




Dawn Temple

Back when her twin sons were young enough for daily naps, Dawn Temple took advantage of those quiet moments to pursue her dream of becoming a published romance writer. Sneaking in an hour here and there paid off in 2005 when she sold her first book, To Have And To Hold, to Silhouette Special Edition. She managed to secret away enough time to write and sell the second book in her Land’s Cross series, Moonlight And Mistletoe, but alas, her boys outgrew naps and Dawn let go of those stolen moments with her laptop to enjoy life with her two little guys and her big guy, hubby of 21 years.
But now, as an officially retired stay-at-home mom, Dawn has once again found the time and the creative drive to return to writing, and this time around, she’s set her sights on independent publishing. Her first self-published book, Peace of Heart, is scheduled for release in 2017.

4 thoughts on “Letting Go of Good Words

  1. Very good advice. Not that easy to follow – the get it done and move on part – I’m more of the procrastinate and whine awhile camp. Thanks for a positive spin on a yukky reality.

  2. And speaking of everyone having a different writing process, this business of deleting words is almost never painful for me. It’s what I love, because the end result is tighter, more impactful prose. Editing – what I enjoy the most about writing. Well, maybe The End is the most satisfying, but not as ongoing. :o)

    Great blog, dawling

  3. Yeah, but editing is deleting a couple of words and/or replacing them with better words. I’m talking about that ripping-off-the-Band-aide moment where PAGES of stuff have got to go. Scary stuff, but I guess growth comes from pain, right?

  4. I remember back to my Harlequin days, when I’d get 95% of the way through a manuscript and then get that sinking feeling that something had just gone seriously wrong… And out would come one or more scenes.

    As you said in your post, the scene(s) just didn’t advance the plot. Or illuminate the characters. Or challenge the characters. Or anything remotely useful. “Dithering” is the word that probably best describes what the scene was about.

    But I love your take on honoring the usefulness of those discarded pages. Going back and looking at the deleted pages, then finding a reason for them is a lovely idea. That’s embracing the entire process, and not just picking and choosing which parts of the process I like and which ones I want to avoid.

    It’s like I have to love the whole in order to do surgery on the bits…

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