Deleting is painful, but it gets better!

All professional gardeners contend that the best way to get the most from your rose bushes one must prune. Lobbing off a few rosebuds, deadheading, can actually make the plant much healthier and produce more numerous beautiful blooms for weeks to come. The same can be said for writing. It may be good, but it could be better.

You hear the experts saying it all the time. The ones who have been there done that, have a couple of published books under their belts, and are now make a living editing and ghost writing for others. I’ve learned (the hard way mind you) that they are absolutely correct, sometimes you just have to use the delete key. Now hear the same sage advice from an amateur’s prospective. [Deleted!]

I recently entered a writing contest and one of the rules concerned the length of the story. Well, I had several to choose from that I have started and walked away from at one point or another. I decided to look through these to see if any of them fit the limited length.

NONE! Not one of the stories I had thought to use was less than 1,200 words, the maximum word length for this contest. Oh I wasn’t worried about the minimum word length requirement. As you have probably guessed from reading thus far I am nothing if not wordy!

I sat down with one story that I liked in particular and read it, then read it again, and again. Every time it was the perfect story for this contest and still every time the word count was over 1,300! How could I possibly trim more than 100 words from this already perfect snap shot of a world I had created?

It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure, but I was determined. I had to enter this contest, win or lose, it was something I’d never done before and I knew I, as well as my writing, would be better off for having made the attempt.

So there I sat, in the garage with my iPad in my lap while my husband turned a magnificent bowl out of lacewood on my lathe: the one he bought me for Christmas, the one I said we’d only buy if he thought he could use it too (much before the wood turning bug bit me, naturally), the one set at my “petite” height. He looked like a giant kid playing with a toy!

So there I sat, as I said, reading and rereading. At first I merely changed some words; I took out two words and said the same thing with just one. Then I was able to take a whole phrase of maybe five or six words and convey the same meaning with only one or two. At one point, though, I felt I was going to lose this battle. I actually found myself adding words during my revision. “No! That’s the wrong direction!” I yelled at myself as I saw the word count inch toward 1,300 again. Finally, with a shaking finger over the delete key, and one eye half closed. I deleted an entire sentence! I didn’t reword it. No, I completely deleted the whole thing! Now I only had 80 more words to trim.

It became a race, we were up against a clock, the dinner bell actually. My husband worked feverishly on the lacewood bowl while I pounded away at the keys (metaphorically speaking only since I was using my iPad). I would periodically announce how many words I had left to trim with great pride in my accomplishment. My husband, in turn (no pun intended wood turners), would periodically ask me to critique his progress on the bowl.

When the dinner bell chimed (the oven timer), I had accomplished what I needed: I had trimmed more than 100 words off my story so that I could submit it to the contest. I smiled from ear to ear and could not stop feeling proud, not with just being able to meet the required length, but by how much better my story seemed to be after trimming it.

Yes, deleting did hurt, it was down right painful, but in the end I had a much better story than the one I started with.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. michele
    Feb 06, 2012 @ 20:31:02

    great bog, and my advise is the same as when we hung out, Less is always more 🙂 good job proud of you


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