One Simple Trick That Makes Editing Less Painful

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

Most writers (myself included!) have an awful time cutting words during the editing process. After all, we pour out our life blood trying to come up with the words. We spend weeks and months laboring over the story, getting details just right, the metaphors perfect, and descriptions dazzling. 

So the thought of hitting delete makes our fingers tremble with terror.

How can we part with our beloved words? How can we so callously kill our darlings?

Yes, over the years I've struggled with deleting during the editing phase. But every first draft will need pruning, and sometimes lots of it. In all my editing from macro down to line edits, I usually delete anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 words of the original document. (Of course most of that gets replaced with new words and scenes.)

But of a 100,000 word document that means I could essentially cut a tenth of the book. I know some authors do even more rewriting, perhaps changing up to a quarter of the book.

The truth is that we can't cling too tightly to our words. We established that in this post: The Unnecessary Shame Writers Feel When Getting Feedback. But, how can we make it easier to pry our fingers away from our words, so that it's easier to let them slip away?

I've found one simple trick that makes it less painful for me to delete. 

Here's what I do: When I get ready to edit, I open a brand new Word document. I label it "Title of Book.Deletions." At the top of the first page, I type "Chapter One." Then I start going through Chapter One of my first draft. I cut everything I absolutely don't need, and I paste it into my new document under Chapter One. I do the same thing with every chapter.

Sometimes I delete only lines here and there. Other times I cut multiple paragraphs.

But knowing that my precious words are safely tucked away in some other document gives me the freedom to slice away at my manuscript. I'm fooling my mind into believing that those words I once labored over are still safe and secure. 

The whole mind-game frees me up to edit with abandon. I can chop without feeling guilty or disappointed. I don't cling too desperately to the original words. I'm able to let go of paragraphs I once crafted with sweat and blood. Because I'm not destroying what I've written. I'm still keeping everything . . . just in case.

In reality, I've realized that I rarely go back and use any of what I ruthlessly delete. But even so, the process of knowing my words are still there, provides a safety net that allows me to edit with more freedom.

Other than releasing us to edit with more ease, there are additional benefits to saving our deletions in a separate document.

If we want to paste a description or theme somewhere later in the book, we have them saved and can weave them in elsewhere. I usually highlight the sections in my Deletions document that I want to try to add back in.

We can use those deleted sections as "bonus" material for readers after the book is published and we're in our promotional phase. We can use a bonus scene on Facebook that we give to readers as added content for "liking" us, or we can even add a page to our website for "extra" or "deleted" scenes. 

Sometimes in interviews we'll be asked for a deleted scene or to describe something we changed. Having the deleted material to refer back to has been a lifesaver for me.

So how do you handle your editing? Do you save your deleted sections? What other tricks or tips do you have for making the editing less painful?

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