Cut It, But Don’t Toss It

A harsh reality of being a writer is that, sometimes, you have to cut characters, scenes, descriptions, and sometimes great swaths of those words you spent hours getting out of your head and into your story.  It’s especially hard if you LIKE the material you’re cutting out, but if the story is stronger for it, it’s gotta be done.

Yesterday, I was talking with some other writers about the editing process, and in particular about what happens to the material I remove from my stories.  I never get rid of the material I cut, unless it’s just a sentence or a rephrase.  Years and years ago, my mother, who is an author herself, told me (in relation to writing), “Never throw anything away.”  I didn’t understand the full importance of that advice until I’d made the mistake a few times over of deleting something and then realizing I was going to need it, after all.

Other reasons not to throw away cut material:  You never know when you may be able to use it in a different story altogether, such as the beautiful description it broke your heart to remove, but later realize would fit perfectly in your next book’s setting.  Or the character you longed to keep in that short story you wrote last year, but he/she just didn’t fit – and now you’ve thought of a perfect storyline for him/her to have a story of his/her own.  You may be able to turn a cut scene into its own short story.  You may end up combining the things you cut from one project into a whole new project.  Bottom line:  you’ve already done the work for this stuff, and you never know when you might want it for something.  Call it a pack-rat mentality or call it stocking up for hard times, whichever you want, but so often I’ve sighed with relief when I realized I still had this or that scene saved to my “parts” file.  It doesn’t hurt to have a few extra Word docs lying around, but that panic-stricken, “AAAAAAAAARGH!!!  I’ve lost that scene forever, and now I need it back!!!” is something I’d prefer to avoid whenever possible.

As to how to keep your “parts” organized….  For short stories, I have one collective file for the pieces I cut.  All my short stories are saved as separate files in one folder together, along with a file called “spare parts”.  Anytime I hack a section out of a short story I’m working on, I open up the spare parts file, cut and paste from the story file to the parts file, save, close “spare parts”, and keep writing.  With novels, I have a folder for the novel, within which are the files for the book itself (with revision numbers, since there will be multiple drafts, and I DO keep back copies of old drafts, in case I don’t like the direction my editing has taken things), and a file called “[working title] parts.doc”.   That way, I don’t get any of my parts files confused.

And yes, I even keep scenes that I really, really hate, and hope will never see the light of day.  So if, in years and years, I’m ever clenching at my chest, wheezing for breath, and trying desperately to delete things from my computer, you will know that I’m trying to get rid of those really bad parts of my writing so that posterity will never see it – LOL!

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