If It Doesn’t Work – Kill It

I’ve really had my head down these last few weeks. I’ve locked myself away in the garret, pulled on the old fingerless gloves to combat the cold and damp summer weather, and I’ve been writing till my fingers bleed. Well. OK. Maybe not bleed. My keyboard isn’t razor-lined. In fact, it’s really quite comfortable to use, so I haven’t even developed any calluses. Or aches.

But I have been writing furiously (and, yes, I’m aware I used an adverb and that the road to hell is paved with them).

If you look closely, you can see adverbs littered everywhere. Probably.

There was a dark moment last week when I thought it was all going wrong. I had my 110,000 word first draft in the bag and was feeling pretty smug about it all, then I started to read through it and  . . . no, no NO.


It wasn’t right. It just wasn’t good enough. The twists didn’t work and the characters were acting out of character, so I struggled over it for a couple of days, trying to mould it the way it was supposed to be. I added, took away, edited, reworded, changed. I tried it all, but something just didn’t feel right.

It didn’t work.

And I learned a good lesson. If it doesn’t work, kill it. I’m talking in the literary sense, of course. Y’know, if your son isn’t working at school, I’m not suggesting anything more drastic than a stern talking to. But when it comes to writing, if the words aren’t doing the right job; kill them. Delete them. Take them out.

So I bit the bullet (as the school nurse used to tell us to do before an injection) and hit the ‘del’ key.

I don’t recommend actually biting a bullet. They’re hard. And deadly.

30,000 words disappeared into the ether.

My manuscript was short, I no longer had a finished first draft but, you know what? It’s better. The anxiety of it not being right is gone. The nightmare of trying to make it fit is gone. And there are plenty more words where those ones came from. And, (and this is the biggest ‘and’) the book is taking a new and far more interesting direction. I’m loving the characters more and the story is twisting and turning like it’s been sprayed with WD40.

And now all is good with the world.

So, if you’re looking for advice, that’s what I have right now. Be brave. Take a deep breath. Highlight and delete. You’ll feel much better. William Faulkner said ‘kill your darlings’ and he was right. If it’s not working, use the delete key. Kill it.

But I’d add a caveat – keep a copy . . . just in case.

That’s all.


8 thoughts on “If It Doesn’t Work – Kill It

  1. You’re so right about this. It’s painful to admit that a huge chunk of the hard work you’ve put into a first draft has to go, but sometimes it needs to be done (although I always keep a copy of whatever I’m deleting too… just in case!).

  2. Harsh but true. It is hard to cut when it’s taken a long time to write – 30,000 words is a big chunk – but they’re only words. It can be redone. With that rate of re-work, it’s a good job I’m not a heart surgeon!

  3. Being a writer entails certain polishing skills, I suppose. Cleaning, tidying, as well as putting words, ideas, thoughts into order. It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it, right?

    I was wondering, how long did it take you to delete 30K words? Must have taken ages, yeah? Also another question: how do you come up with your character’s vices?

  4. How long did it take to delete the words? Not long, really. Just as long as it took to highlight them and press the delete key. How long it took for me to decide to delete them is a different matter. It had taken me a couple of weeks to write them, so I had to be sure about letting them go. But, when I say ‘delete’, what I really mean is ‘cut’. I still have them in an early version of the draft, they’re just not in the manuscript anymore.

    And as for my character’s vices? Well, like most things about my characters, they just . . . happen. I don’t do any awful lot of planning (thus the big cut, I suppose), and my characters develop as I write them.

    • Warrior? Brave? Well, that’s true. I’ll probably end up like Cain in ‘Kung-Fu’ wandering the earth and having adventures. Maybe.

      You’re right, though, it does take a bit of determination to delete such a big chunk!

  5. I’m so glad you said at the end to keep a copy. I was getting all cold, reading the word delete! I know it needs to be done, but damn, it’s scary sometimes. Glad it worked for you though.

    • Ha ha! Oh yes, ALWAYS keep a copy. ‘Delete’ just sounds more dramatic and . . . well, we’re in the business of making things sound dramatic, right? But, you never know when you might want to put those cut words back in again. I keep multiple copies of different versions of my WIP and when I make any major changes, I always save a new version. It’s useful to be able to go back if you need to.

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