When do you hit delete?

I used to play chicken with words. See if they could outlast cat feet on the keyboard and endless software updates. You might not think it possible, but I’ve killed off numerous words in this ambivalent game of word roulette. Why do this after working hard to put them on a page. Truth? I didn’t think they were good enough but I couldn’t hit delete.

Stephen King has two catch phrases, Kill Your Darlings and I’m paraphrasing here – Sometimes what you think is shit is actually good writing. Darlings I find in editing. I have a graveyard filled with what I think are awesome lines. I troll it every once in awhile, recycle a word or two, but mostly laugh and wonder what was I thinking?

As to shit writing. Everything looks that way at 2 am when your eyes are bugging out of your head. It’s okay to walk away, hit save, return in a few days. The words are hardly ever shit. On occasion they are. I won’t lie. But I will tell you that even then I still find some key story thread waiting to be picked up and hammered into shape.

Yet neither of these instances are the delete button worthy question I am referring to in the title. No, that is reserved for the crazy out of nowhere lines that pop past the brain/finger barrier. You know, the ones that magically appear on the page and must stay there.

I had a set recently: Clouds touch more than sky. Five words and I couldn’t delete them no matter how hard I tried. They had no meaning to the story. They don’t even fit together except I think strung that way they sound cool. Hardly a reason to keep them.

Yet a month later I had gleaned where in the story they belonged. I knew Sky was a character name (happy coincidence) and that for my Protag, it had great significance. Otherwise I was stuck. Two months in, jumping around, trying to tie things together the dam finally burst. Clouds touch more than sky became symbolic, and a real turning point. That proverbial ah-hah moment for the Protag and me.

I was so pleased that I shared this with a writer friend then asked if she too ever had those types of words. Now I ask you. When, if ever do you hit delete?

Author/Contributor: Teresa Little



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