Castoffs and Dredges, or How I Learned to Love Delete

The delete key intimidates me. I’m sure I’m not alone in that, it really does cause a moment of panic whenever I decide I need to use it.

Not for the little things like a misspelled word or a improper tense, in fact I’ve deleted several things in this line alone.

But when I realize that an entire section of a story or book needs to be wiped out. That’s when fear settles into the pit of my stomach and sometimes causes me step away from the keyboard in frustration.

Finding Angels went though so many different drafts before it’s final publication that it’s hardly the same book. And I’m not even considering the ill-fated venture that the Hunter comic was (yes, there was a comic, and yes, I may share it again some day). But, there were at least five major drafts:

1.) Finding Angels as a mystery aimed at adults.
2.) Finding Angels as a novella, much shorter with only a single antagonist.
3.) Finding Angels with another entirely different antagonist (suffered horribly from Spider-Man syndrome).
4.) Finding Angels written entirely from Miriam’s perspective.
5.) Finding Angels as you know it now (mostly).

But the purpose of this post isn’t to talk about those major drafts, though I probably could for several thousand words given the chance.

I’m here to encourage you to learn to love delete and to keep all those little sections you delete saved somewhere safe, because you never know when you’ll find a use for them later.

I don’t think it’s a secret that authors tend to hate what they write. I mean, I love writing and I’m immensely happy with how my first novel has turned out, but I still hate it sometimes. It’s a strange feeling that I’ve been assured other writers experience. But I feel that my writing is good more often than not, and others have assured me that it is as well, so I keep plugging along ignoring the voice in my head.

Until that little voice tells me I need to kill a character. Not in some dramatic flashy way that ends with them falling off a building with a sword stabbed through their back, but simply blipped out of existence. Their part slowly filled by the ebbing sands of the story. Engulfed until there isn’t even a reference to them when they were once important.

That’s when I hated Delete (proper noun at this point). That bastard would scratch away an entire day or work and require a massive rewrite of other parts. And for the longest time I fought it. I railed against Delete and refused to give in, creating convoluted plots with enough holes in them to make a mouse mistake it for cheese. I would dance and dive around a section I needed to kill, building more and more contortions into my story until I was frustrated with the entire thing.

But then I gave in.

Towards the end of my time writing The Peacekeeper’s Force (an online comic, for the new comers here) I stopped fighting Delete and gave in.

And it made Finding angels all the better for it.

That third major draft, the one with a totally different antagonist added in, was a major turning point for the story. With a single swift decision I deleted three chapters of the novel…and the story was so much better for it. But I kept this character in a separate little folder I lovingly named ‘Dredges’. I kept those three chapters and all the content hidden away from prying eyes, mulling over what to do with it. I liked the character. I liked the scene. But I couldn’t figure out what purpose they could serve in the book.

Then I came to a realization: This character didn’t belong in Book One, Finding Angels. This character belonged in Book Two. The scenes? Not so much. But the character belonged to Book Two. So I moved them. And it opened up an entirely different direction that fixed so much.

Delete and I are on better terms now that I have my ‘Dredges’ folder. I feel like my work doesn’t go to waste, but instead it simmers and gives me a chance to think about it.

Not all of my dredges will end up used, but it’s all there, waiting for the right moment. The right situation. To make something even better.

And Delete is satisfied with my changes. I just had to catch up.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one who has a ‘Dredges’ folder, but tell me what you do when Delete decides it’s time to claim something you worked so hard on. I’m honestly curious.

-Peace, and a Happy New Year

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Also known as Keith Thomsen. I'm an author and teacher living in Las Vegas, Nevada. I've been writing since I was very small and hope to continue until I am very old. I live with my wife, who you can thank/blame for finally getting me published, and our dogs.

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