Why You Should Never Delete Your Writing

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A fellow writer tweeted that she deleted 16 pages because she didn’t like the direction her novel was headed. You could hear the sense of accomplishment in her words.

My heart stopped (ok, not literally).

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photo by eofstr

Sixteen pages of her baby were gone. Sure, she might not like them today but what about tomorrow?

What about when she finishes her novel and needs to expand?

Never Delete

Not everything you write is worth keeping.

But nothing is worth deleting forever.

When pages don't fit, they need to go. By all means, remove those 16 pages from your novel.

Rather than deleting 16 pages of hard work, save them in another document for safe keeping just in case you change your mind. If nothing else, those pages can be used as proof for how you've improved as a writer.

Who knows, they could become a launching point for another piece.

Personally, I keep a document entitled “Modge Podge of Killed Documents” just in case I want a scene I had originally written off as garbage. It's easier to search through one document than it is to rack your brain to recreate an old scene.

You may never use those words again but better safe than sorry, right?

Have you ever deleted your writing and regretted it later?

PRACTICE

Invite the characters from your work in progress to play. For fifteen minutes, hang out with them and let them run the story. This may or may not relate to what you're actually writing. It's just practice.

When you're done, post it in the comments and comment on a few other practices.

Katie Axelson is a writer, editor, and blogger who's seeking to live a story worth telling. You can find her blogging, tweeting, and facebook-ing.

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48 Comments

  1. Normandie Fischer

    I’ve folder upon folder of excised chapters, points of view, scenes I thought wonderful and then gag-worthy. I may never look at them again, but there they lie, dormant, perhaps to spark another moment of creativity at some later date.

    Reply
  2. Sharon A. Lavy

    I have used many a deleted portion. Maybe later in the book, maybe in another book. Why take the chance? Keep a special folder for those gems.

    Reply
  3. Werner Meyer

    I’ve deleted sentences and passages that didn’t work or were awkward, but never pages and pages. When making major changes, I instead save a new draft such as novelname_dd-mm-yy.doc. There has been a couple of occasions where I went back to a previous draft to retrieve a character I wanted back, a plot twist or an action scene that worked better than a newer one I created.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      Me too. I’m working on a series of short stories right now that have mostly come from trashed novel content.

      Reply
  4. Steve Stretton

    I tend to edit as I go. I prefer it that way; so I delete individual words or single sentences. I am still writing the first draft so everything major tends to be left in. However, when I come to the rewrite I’ve no doubt there will be scenes to remove or rework. Then I will see about keeping them for later reference. It seems strange to keep these literary bones, but I see your point.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I’m the same way in that I edit as I go but if I’m going to be making major changes (or deleting full paragraphs), I save it in a new document.

      Reply
  5. Christine

    This is where DropBox comes in handy for me. I can save the whole file or part of it without collecting a filing cabinet full of dead weight.

    Reply
  6. PJ Reece

    By all means, don’t “trash” a draft. If I think I’m on a wrong track, I copy the whole document to a new file and label it as a new “Revision”. I’ve got all those past revisions to mine for characters or ideas or dialogue I want back.

    Reply
  7. Gabriel Gadfly

    This is actually a really neat idea! I’ve deleted poems that weren’t working before, but maybe I’ll start a new subfolder in my WIP folder for trash poems and sort through them every six months or so.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I had a professor strongly encourage me to draft poems in pen so I wouldn’t erase. It’s the same idea.

      Reply
  8. Tony Caballero

    OMG! This made my heart stop too! I still mourn the loss of a story I lost in college due to a computer crash.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I had that happen to me too except it was a lost flash drive that I think I left in the computer lab.

      Reply
  9. Alice M

    I started writing years ago. There are only 2 things that I wrote that I do not have. Both of these were given away. After that I realized should have copied. Since than I have never thrown any thing I write away and copied every thing that I have written. One of the reasons for the filing cabinets in my house. When started using computers have saved on at least 2 disks in case one was damaged. Deleting is not in my vocabulary. 😉 I found much that I didn’t use at first was able to redo and use somewhere else.

    Reply
  10. Karoline Kingley

    Never delete. Ever. No matter how bad you think it is. I learned that lesson the hard way…

    Reply
  11. Christine Niles

    I always thought I was the only pack-rat that loathed the delete key. I’ve lost a few old pieces (from the days of the Apple IIe) and still, more years later than I like to admit, I feel the loss in my bones.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I’ve lost a few too but I hate it so much that I do everything I can to prevent it from happening again (yet it always does).

      Reply
  12. Lawrence Harris

    I agree, never delete or toss writings away. Yep, I have stuff from when I was a young kid. Never get rid of those…should I say…treasures.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      “Treasures” is a fair word for them. 😉

      Reply
  13. Zakgirl

    On this one point, deleting, I have to disagree.

    If it wasn’t good enough then it will not be good enough later.

    Why would I believe that hoarding an old piece of junk would help my writing advance at a later date?

    I say, declutter, grow and live a stress free life.

    On getting rid of writing pieces:

    There is only one piece of writing and artwork I regret not having kept and that wasn’t destroyed by my own hand. It was my first serious piece of writing that I wrote in Primary School and the teacher as punishment for some minor thing I did (okay maybe it wasn’t that minor) decided to destroy my story (and a painting I had done of a sunset) as punishment for my wrongdoing. I have often wished I could re-read that piece just for fun and prosperity but strangely enough the punchline of that story is still in my memory.

    We hold on to way too much in this life, possessions, emotions, regrets, hatred and scraps of writing junk. Free yourselves delete, delete, delete and then delete some more. Be free!

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      Thanks for your comment. I think “good enough” is subjective. While it may not be good enough for that particular scene or even that piece, it may be good enough for another piece or later scene. Of course, there’s revision and will need to go into play but it’s a starting point, is it not?

      Reply
      • Zakgirl

        As I said, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one. I just can’t see the point of hanging onto trash. It’s sheer vanity.

        I do agree however, that if there’s a tiny sparkle in those words – for sure keep them, but if you thought 16 pages were ‘just plain wrong’ then don’t be afraid to delete. It’s actually a very liberating feeling. Try it! Seriously, give it a go. If the thoughts are truly worth something you won’t forget them, will you. 🙂

        Reply
        • Carissa Taylor

          I argue that you can get that liberating feeling by cutting them from your actual manuscript and then pasting them into a “deleted scenes” document. Best of both worlds.

          Some of the scenes my betas have loved best have been exhumed from my deleted scenes file!!

          Reply
    • Laura W.

      There definitely IS something liberating about deleting. It’s the same feeling you get from looking at your email when you have a thousand new messages that you’ll never read, and then deleting all of them. WHOOSH! Done. Don’t have to worry about it anymore. There are certain things I will save, but I think deleting — while painful — is often necessary. Only if I’m really, REALLY torn about something do I drop it into a folder.

      Reply
  14. Donna S. Fernandez

    My son came in from school one afternoon, a few years ago, and found me with my head on the table crying inconsolably. Why? A short fiction piece I’d been working on for two weeks, a piece filled with personal descriptions, a piece moving in the right direction––went to cyberspace because of an errant finger. It takes hitting bottom, they say.
    With regard to total deletion, I could never do it. A few shorts/essays/poems have a thick “file” with various versions (after culling), some of which bear little resemblance to the final product. Who knows what I might do with some of those in the future? I think use them in another genre. You never know.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      Ugh, I’m so sorry that happened to you, Donna!

      Reply
  15. BendersPen

    The problem I’ve been having is starting to write, let alone having anything to delete. (I’m a ‘outliner’ type of writer, and haven’t complete my outline of my novel to start.)

    However, I feel everything written should be saved. Who knows how much I’ve written in the past that didn’t work in my novel, which I simply deleted without thinking. There might have been nuggets of ideas, or a simple piece of logic that might help me today.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      What’s preventing you from completing the outline?

      That’s my problem too.

      Reply
  16. Giulia Esposito

    I can never bring myself to delete anything. If something doesn’t feel right, I have this bad habit of abandoning the story altogether. I have so many that are just started that it hurts to think of them there unfinished sometimes. It’s something I’m working on, bringing myself to just keep at it and fix it later.

    Reply
  17. LetiDelMar

    I have a file for stuff I can’t bring myself to delete too. Otherwise I’m digging in the recycle bin yelling, “No! No! Oh please don’t be lost forever!”

    Reply
  18. Abigail Rogers

    Yes, I would say that this has definitely happened to me. I use Scrivener, so thank goodness there are snapshots of previous versions of each scene!

    Reply
  19. Jeff Ellis

    While I see the merit of retaining bits and pieces of discarded work in order to rekindle the flame at a later date, I think that this practice is relative to the writer. Much like the spring cleaners in our lives, there are some writers who will honestly never go back to those documents because they are always looking forward and for those of us who think like this, having so much chaff lying around can plunge us into a neurotic fit, possibly even halting work altogether. It becomes an excuse, “Oh I shouldn’t work on this idea because I have yet to start on any of those scraps I have lying around.” If you really do believe you will come back to them, I say absolutely make a file for all your deleted scenes, but if it’s just going to sit around, cluttering your work space (real or digital) then by all means, delete delete delete. To every writer, their own methods.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I’m perfectly ok with a messy work space and incomplete projects in that one document. Beyond that, no.

      Reply
  20. Carissa Taylor

    I totally agree that you should never delete!

    There are times when I’ve totally gone back to my “Out-takes” document and copied and pasted things back into my WIP.

    It’s so easy to have a running “deleted scenes” document. There’s no reason to delete!

    Reply
  21. Audrey Chin

    Totally agree. Joe will tell you I whittled down 160,000 words to 105,000. But most of that went into a file called “dump”. I’m still waiting on editorial suggestions “for significant rewrite” from my publisher. Looks like there’ll be more stuff in “dump”. Or maybe, I might end up going there to pick up some stuff to re-insert. Great post Katie

    Reply
  22. Ava Jae

    I completely agree! I never delete, because as you said, you never know when you’ll want to go back to a scene you removed either for reference (for rewriting, for example) or future inspiration. That’s not to say that you can’t delete some of it in the future if you’re sure you’re never going to use it, but I’d at least hold on to it for a while first.

    Reply
  23. Zakgirl

    I really enjoyed this thread, thanks to Katie Axelson for writing it. It’s interesting to see everyone’s differing opinions on the topic and I’m surprised and delighted by how many feel so strongly about not hitting that dreaded delete button. And thanks to Carissa Taylor for her viewpoint response also. I find I have a lot to agree with Jeff Ellis. Great post!!!

    Reply
  24. Laura W.

    I must beg to differ. Deleting a whopping 16 pages at a time is hardly ever just a whim! She might have been thinking about it for a long time. If anything, I need to face up to the stuff I need to delete. Generally, my instincts are good. If I’m not sure about something, or I think I miiiiight want to delete it, 9 times out of 10 I turn out to be right. Now, I do keep a document of deleted stuff, especially for huge deletes like the 16-page one. I also go back and look through it every once in a while, and remember why I deleted it in the first place. Usually I end up erasing it forever and not regretting a thing.

    What I never, ever delete is a good description, turn of phrase, bit of dialogue, or other use of language that I’m very proud of but that might not fit where I’ve put it. I keep those on reserve in my “deleted stuff” document.

    Deletion is where an outside eye would come in handy. If you are really torn, it can help to ask the opinion of someone who isn’t as tied to the story as you are.

    Reply
    • Katie Axelson

      I have no problem removing the 16 pages from the piece. It’s the deleting forever I can’t do. Right now, I’m writing some short stories that have all come from that deleted stuff document. Not verbatim but the inspiration was definitely in there.

      Reply
  25. MitchellAllen

    And that’s why there’s Evernote. I have my scribblings backed up six ways from Sunday. The truly horrible is never lost – just out of sight on a backup drive.

    The less-than-horrible excisions live as notes in Evernote, marked up with whatever helpful thoughts I deem necessary to prevent my ever including the snippet in the future.

    Cheers,

    Mitch

    Reply
  26. Puffy

    I have deleted…everything. Seriously. When I think they’re not good enough, they’re gone. Forever.

    Being only eleven years old, I tend to think I’m not good enough compared to other authors. While everyone on The Write Practice is writing warm stories about families, love, supernatural stuff…I’m writing about ninjas and fairies.

    So I guess you guys could at least understand why I delete them.

    Reply
    • Christine Niles

      We writers, both young and old, tend to be our own harshest critics. Sometimes when we think something is not good enough (especially in comparison to others) it’s a lie that Fear tells us to keep our art hidden from the world. And sometimes, it might not be great, but it could get better with some help from another writer or editor.

      There’s nothing at all wrong with ninjas and fairies…and nothing inherently *better* about the other stuff. Keep writing, and instead of deleting, would you try sharing your work with one or two others who can help you grow and improve it?

      Reply

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