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This Writing Life: Throwing Words Away

10 August, 2012

The Olympics are in their winding-down stages now, so I thought I’d take a break from my Not-Quite Cultural Olympiad (I had a couple more posts in mind, which I’ll get to if I have the chance next week). Instead, it’s back to writing, and something I’ve been thinking about his morning, namely throwing words away.

You see, I’m working on a novella, set in a world I’ve already written a novel about, but twenty years after those events.  All I have to go on for guidance is the world I’ve already created and a particular character (the novella is for a specific anthology, and this character is absolutely perfect for the anthology’s guidelines). I could, in theory and as long as my character stays in character, write about anything – which is turning out to be exactly the problem. I have too many choices, and none of them seem to be quite working.

And now we get to the heart of this post: I’ve written 5000 words on the novella this week, but this morning I decided the story just isn’t going as well as I’d like. Despite being up against a deadline, and with anything up to 40k words to write, I’m going to need to throw most of those initial 5k away.

I’m made similar decisions in the past, but this is the first time I’ve been fairly certain I’ll be unable to reuse any of what I’ve written so far. Instead, I’m looking at entirely different plots, which diverge so far from my ideas at the beginning of the week that that first 5k has become entirely meaningless. It’s a frustrating process, particularly with a deadline constraining just how much time I have to work on this novella.

Of course, I know that no writing is a waste of time. I’ve learnt more from this failure than from writing an opening I was perfectly happy with first time. Still, there’s something more annoying about throwing words away than there is about writing an entire story before deciding there’s no point editing it and putting it aside. In that instance, I can take the whole story as an educational exercise, which I can study once and then never look at again. This time round, despite throwing those words away, I’m not prepared to abandon the novella as a whole, and no matter what I’ve learnt, I can’t help but feeling I’ve been wasting time.

So, throwing words away: have you done it? And if you have, what’s the largest number of words you’ve discarded? My 5000 wasn’t too severe – I’m waiting for your horror stories!

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One Comment
  1. 10 August, 2012 3:20 pm

    That was another excellent post today. Thanks so much for sharing. Keep up the fantastic job.

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