DELETE: the power one button can give

A couple of years ago, I read a blog post about how the delete button can actually strengthen your story. The way the writer spoke about it (and how much it appeared they'd decided to delete), I thought they must have been one crayon short of a full box. But now... some four years later? I get it. And man does that delete button make a difference.

I think, as writers (no matter what stage of the game you're in--just starting out, writing for years, hoping to get that one agent to like your work finally, whatever), we have to remember that each story is that ever-present, smelly, sometimes (but more often not) enjoyable onion. There are layers that only time can grow. There are parts that only days and months of thought and revision and different perceptions of life in general can inspire. (I don't mean that in a slave-ish way, I just mean no one can turn out a wonderfully written full piece of work in say, two months. Time really does make a difference.)

I didn't used to believe that. When I first started, I really didn't. I think it's kind of like driving (don't ask Lovemuffin what he thinks about mine, and this example will work out just fine). You think, at sixteen, seventeen years old, you're an awesome and alert driver who is God's gift to the road. By the time you hit twenty-five or so, however, you realize you probably shouldn't have done half the things you did behind the wheel in high school.

Case in point: Senior year. I was barely seventeen, and the radio in my Buick LaSabre was broken. Broken as in, the power button would not stay pushed in. I drove around town with my finger ON the button, folks. Because I just had to have music playing. (Because only Lovemuffin had the brains to suggest jamming a toothpick in there soon after. Duh.) What on earth made me think driving with one hand was a good thing to do???

Looking back on my writing, I can see how much time has changed things; how much reading has benefitted me. How silly it was to be so upset that nothing went anywhere three years ago--how could it have? I was so not ready. We try to rush things and let go of drafts that are not yet ready to be released because we feel this crazy, sky-is-falling push every time we pick up a magazine or get on the internet.

Yesterday morning, Lovemuffin up and announced that we were cleaning out the backyard. This was not a welcomed notion in the Brooks household, let me tell you, especially since he said it way too early (yes... 8:30 is early. So is 11:00. But back to the story...). After a year of needing to "take this or that to the dump", we'd accumulated quite an array of junk, and we all knew it was something that had to be done. There was one particular item going to the dump that made me a little sad. Here's a picture I took as Lovemuffin carried it to the front yard with the bobcat:

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When you look at that picnic bench hanging out of the bucket, you most likely see a collapsed piece of junk--wood and metal that doesn't really look like anything special. But when I look at it, I see my grandma and grandpa's back yard when I was little. I see their patio and the ivy everywhere all around it and the funky stone man-face thing that hung by a thick piece of string from the top of the lattice and the California poppies Grandpa always had planted beyond this picnic bench, in front of the back fence. I see hide-and-go seek with my grandparents' neighbor's kids, I see my ten year-old self trying to sneak behind the side of the house and through the gate with my friends.

And then, I see the same picnic bench in my backyard after my grandparents had passed away. I see the original brick-red color fading and peeling; I see the four of us--me, and my three girls--painting the top of it white so it would last for years to come in our own backyard.

The picnic bench was an eyesore. But it had a story. It had an innumerable amount of words connected to it. When we came home from our family vacation last summer, the whole thing had collapsed. I don't know how it happened, but we decided that trying to get it fixed was more trouble than we wanted to deal with. I'm fine with it, I was ready to let it go I guess, but seeing it go in the trailer to go to the dump yesterday still stung a little.

This is also how we feel about our work. We spend so much time with it that we don't want to let it go. We have this kinship with the emotions we felt as it was written, and deleting it means getting rid of the result of all that time and effort.

But sometimes, deleting things actually make a scene or the dialogue even stronger. Like I said, I never used to believe this. Then, I went through the very last revision process before PITY ISN'T AN OPTION was released, and I saw words and sentences that no longer belonged. I saw adjectives that, instead of making the writing stronger, make it not as good. And I was that person; the one I read about. I was the one who was empowered and excited and happy to use that delete button. I took them off, re-read the scenes, and knew without a doubt in my mind that it had helped.

Something being gone doesn't necessarily mean something has been lost. You may know deep down that some parts need revision, but can't bring yourself to let go of them. In that case, keep the deleted parts somewhere, if it'll make you feel better. Store them in a file next to your writing journals, save them on your comp, shoot them to yourself in an email. Do whatever feels best if you don't want to let go of them completely. I know I'm going to look out the sunroom window for a while and feel a pang when I see the empty spot where the bench used to be. But guess what? I have a picture of it before we painted it white. (Right after my oldest and her friend had a royal paint-splatter fight and it was brick-red, peeling, and rainbow colored on one side.) So I'm fine. I'm not going to lie: the patio looks better without it. As time passes and you go back to that next onion layer and re-read your work, you're going to see that deleting here and there was the right thing to do, and you'll be fine, too.

Be blessed,


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