Nuke the Words From Orbit…

…it’s the only way to be sure!

I listen to Writing Excuses on a regular basis. It’s become my companion every week, the 20 minute highlight during 10 hours of accumulated stop-go traffic in San Antonio. San Antonio drivers are among the most aggravating I’ve experienced outside of Italy. Even rush hour in DC and around Tyson’s Corner is more agreeable than goddam San Antonio at rush hour. (It bears noting that, outside of rush hour, I find San Antonio quite agreeable.)

On the podcast, they have a regular panel of authors including Brandon Sanderson, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells, who range along the spectrum from outliners to discovery writers (also affectionately known as “pantsers”).

I am a pantser, through and through. The Writing Excuses episode on pre-writing made me realize that pantsing in and of itself is a pre-writing method. You’re a discovery writer if writing itself is what gets the juices flowing to create the story.

What does this practically mean? It means you need to be even more ruthless in severing emotional attachments to what you’ve already written.

I know. It’s hard to delete words, especially when you’re getting started. Especially if you’re at the stage in your writing journey where you have yet to finish a novel. You think things like, “I don’t know if I can write long enough.” (Don’t worry about that. When you stop focusing on writing “enough” and focus instead on writing “completely”, the length will take care of itself. And then you’ll find yourself with the opposite problem: you’ll write too much.)

Maybe you’ve written a 3,000 word prologue which beautifully introduces your world and sets the stage for the action to come. You’re halfway through your first novel, still mistakenly focused on page count, and someone tells you the prologue isn’t interesting.

“What do you mean it’s not interesting?” you protest. It shows the awesome awesomeness of your creation, and gives epic epic-ness levels of Meaning and Great Import to all that is to come!

But the person tells you, “Yeah, but your reader doesn’t care about that yet. You haven’t earned it.”

And that’s the crux. The prologue (or whichever scene in question) is how you came to know your world. It’s okay to delete it.

(Woah! Wait! BREAK BREAK. Don’t actually delete stuff. File it into another doc of scraps. For here on out, when I say nuke, delete, or otherwise erase or eradicate scenes and texts, this assumes you understand to delete it from the book, not the quantum universe itself).

It’s okay to delete and start again, because now you are a new person!  You are a different writer than who you were before. You are now the writer who wrote that scene, instead of the writer with a blank page. You can now write a new scene, with established context in your own mind. You have a basis of understanding upon which to build. YOU HAVE COME TO KNOW (discover) your world and characters more intimately. The new scene you write, whether it be a prologue, chapter, act, or even book itself, will be informed by the work you have already done. It doesn’t matter that the scene might be different characters, a different plot, or setting.

Writing in and of itself is a method of world building. I “think out loud” through the keyboard. My first book had four very different prologues before I settled on the final one. My current next-next book’s prologue was stolen to replace the epilogue of the next book (its prior book).

And now I’m looking at four chapters, 7K words, and thinking: “Hmm. I don’t know if this is the right place to start this story.” Which means, it might never see the light of day. It becomes a “deleted scene,” but that doesn’t mean it’s can’t be canon. It can still be “what happened” to those characters at that point in the plot. I can happen off-screen, but now when I decide what parts of the story to show, when I write new content, it’s informed by the hours and pages working through what I’ve already discovered.

And that’s okay.

So don’t worry about letting go of attachment to words written, especially if you’re a pantser. It’s all part of the process.

Until next time,

2 thoughts on “Nuke the Words From Orbit…

  1. I prefer George RR Martin’s terminology for this — he describes writers as either “architects” (those that plan it all out, then write) or “gardeners” (those who just start writing, and see where it goes). “Pantser” sounds like that jerk in middle school who liked to pull down other students’ (usually boys’) pants.

    Otherwise, lovely post. And it is so important to save your “nuked” passages! Most just take up teeny tiny bits of space on your hard drive (or your desk drawer) for eternity, but every once in a while you find a new use for one.

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