‘Backspace’ Is Your Friend

I’ve been writing regularly for the last seven years now, and though I have yet to get a piece of fiction published officially, I have learned some valuable lessons about the craft of word smithing. One of the most crucial lessons is never underestimate how much simply hitting the backspace button can help you.

Starting any writing session is a difficult task. Few feelings compare to when the words flow freely. Still, there are times when you can struggle to find your voice, so no matter how many words you manage to churn out, it might just not feel right when all is said and done.

A lot of feelings come after such a session. Feelings of inadequacy and doubt have assaulted many a wordsmith after an unsatisfying couple of bouts with the empty page.  To a writer, it’s comparable to a black eye. Looking at an unsatisfying bunch of pages can leave you wondering just how do you fix such a thing?

My advice is don’t bother. Just hit the backspace button.

We do get attached to our words, and deleting a page of material, or twelve or thirty, does create a sinking feeling, no matter how flawed those words are. But sometimes, a complete re-take does yield better results than simply editing the offending material.

During my current book, this has happened several times. I recall writing an entire chapter’s worth of story, building up to a very important scene where my characters meet for the first time. But it just wasn’t right. I thought about how I could edit it in order to fix the scenes, but every idea I had fell woefully short. I couldn’t continue on, because everything that happened since would be tainted by the previous chapter, not unlike a row of tumbling dominos.

So, with a heavy heart and a fair bit of apprehension, I did the unthinkable. I deleted the whole chapter and started over. How did that feel?

There are few times when I’ve felt better. Deleting the previous material was an oddly liberating experience. No longer was I confined to my previous material. I was on free open pages that I could mould into whatever I wanted. I struggled through the first attempt at that chapter for over a week. The second attempt both took less than half the time to finish, and was twice as good.

It was the fear of backspace that killed my fantasy novel. Rather than do the brave thing and re-write it from the ground up, I was too afraid to get rid of the previous draft. Doing so effectively put me in a cage where the story would only improve as much as the previous draft allowed it. Had I the courage to simply start over, then all the wonderful ideas that have come since would have been born that much sooner.

It can be a very scary thing to delete a lot of your work, but if those words are holding you back, you shouldn’t be afraid to cut ties with them. Save them in a separate document, sure. But don’t be afraid to set them aside if your manuscript is suffering from them. Try not to look at it as getting rid of your work. Rather, it’s getting rid of unnecessary clutter. Once you do that, you’re left with a slew of new possibilities.

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