The Creative Delete Key: Creativity Series (Guest Blog)

Frederick Lee Brooke is a nice guy.

There. I said it, and I mean it.  He was one  of the 60+ writers who took part in The Rule of  Three Blogfest I co-hosted (w/Damyanti, Lisa and JC). He is also a “Tribe” member of mine in  a group that twits and kibitzes…a lot.  He was one of the early members who came to my call when I needed it most, and that will not soon be forgotten.

‘Ladies and gentlemen…have you met Frederick?

The Creativity Series Guest Blog

The Beauty of the Delete Key: Frederick Lee Brooke

A famous writing teacher once asked which is more important in the writing process, the lead or the eraser? Also known nowadays as the delete key. Lots of writers talk about their rising daily word count as if it were like a fund drive, always going up, up, up. Mine is going down, down.

Don’t get me wrong. I love cruising through my first draft, starting at zero and ending at 90,000 or whatever. If I have planned well, the first draft goes quickly.

I’m guessing the first draft makes up, for me at least, one-tenth of the writing process. Now’s when the delete key swings into action. What sort of things am I deleting?

1. stage directionsisa &

In my first draft I have a bad habit of blocking the characters’ movements. Readers can figure this out on their own. When I revise, I delete most of the blocking. Example:

He went in the kitchen and found the cappuccino on the counter.

He found the cappuccino on the kitchen counter.

2. cliches

To be handed walking papers is a cliche. It doesn’t really mean anything. I’m trying to say he’s been through a lot. Instead of trying to load the cliche with this meaning, I delete it and let the listed events that follow carry the weight.

He had been handed his walking papers in the last days. First he gets fired. For an offense he didn’t commit. He burned at the thought. Then he gets shot at and served with divorce papers.

To think what he had been through. First he gets fired. For an offense he didn’t commit. He burned at the thought. Then he gets shot at and served with divorce papers.

3. too much description

In the example below, I realized it’s not necessary to indicate some women are sitting and others are standing. Also “around the room” and “costumes” are unnecessary here.

Eight or ten women stood or sat all around the room, working at tables, laying out materials for tonight, sewing costumes and chatting.

Eight or ten women sat working at tables, laying out materials for tonight, sewing and chatting.

4. banal agreement in dialogue

Maybe only I do this. Probably comes from growing up in the suburbs.

Annie nodded. “I don’t think you want that spatter on your nice clothes.”

“You don’t want that spatter on your nice clothes.”

Of course, I’m not just deleting as I revise, I’m also adding dialogue or interior monologue where I’ve moved too quickly. I’m sharpening edges, deepening interiors, and increasing fireworks. It’s not just about shortening; it’s about making every word count.

The master of mysteries and westerns, Elmore Leonard, said, “My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.”

The first draft of my new Annie Ogden mystery reached 92,000 words, but lately, following a second and third run-through, it’s held steady at 85,000. Although I keep cutting, I’m also recognizing places that need more detail, more attention, or slower treatment, in order to bring them into higher relief.

I’ve told you something about my writing process, with emphasis on the delete key.

Which is more important for you, the lead or the eraser?

Frederick Lee Brooke has been a teacher, a language school manager and a school owner.  He lives with his family in Switzerland and makes frequent trips to the U.S.A. and other countries.  He loves cooking, walking, reading, and learning languages and speaks English, German, French and Italian and is learning Turkish.  “Doing Max Vinyl” is the first in the series of Annie Ogden mysteries.  It can be purchased on Amazon or on Smashwords.  The sequel to “Doing Max Vinyl” is due in April 2012.

14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barbara Klein
    Dec 12, 2011 @ 02:45:16

    Hi, Stuart and Frederick!
    Thanks for sharing, Stuart, enjoyed the guest post of Frederick on the creative writing process, specially since we live in the same town! Now, does that apply to one of the 4 points raised above? Should I add or delete?
    Have a wonderful week, Barbara


  2. Frederick Brooke
    Dec 12, 2011 @ 07:31:17

    Thanks for saying I’m a nice guy, Stu! I love it!


  3. Guilie
    Dec 12, 2011 @ 08:00:23

    Excellent post, Stuart and Frederick–thanks for sharing! Yes, indeed the delete key (or the eraser) is most important. I’m a prolific writer; 2K+ words in one day is not rare at all. But–is it quality? So yes, once I reach the end–and NaNo, my first one this year, taught me how important it is to reach the end in one long sweeping arc–there’s a lot of revision (and deletion) to be done. Wordiness, verbosity, switching from “telling” into “showing”, unnecessary repetitions in dialogue, too much description, too little setting… Yep, tweaking, twisting, lots of cutting, little pasting.

    Thanks for this post!


  4. zencherry
    Dec 12, 2011 @ 08:07:53

    Ooo but I like thinking of the delete key as an eraser! Yep…in total agreement. Free writer here who goes back with a vicious editor after the words have jumbled onto the page. (Comments on blogs notwithstanding) 😉


  5. Lisa
    Dec 12, 2011 @ 09:13:51

    Timely post as I spent the past three days in ‘delete’ mode. The list of what sort of deletions to look for is helpful. Thanks to both Stu and Frederick for a great post.


  6. Lisa Wields Words
    Dec 12, 2011 @ 12:11:04

    Hooray for the delete key! Hooray for the Creativity Series!


  7. Laurie Sanders
    Dec 12, 2011 @ 14:20:47

    Perhaps the lead and the delete key are equal in importance. 🙂 How is that for straddling the line?

    I tend to write rough one day and then go back over what I wrote day 1 for the next 10 or so days. During the 10 days that follow the initial write there is A LOT of deletion…but also a lot of new stuff being added to clarify, intensify, build upon what I put in the initial pass.

    It’s definitely days 2-10 or so that are the most important in my process…but then those days wouldn’t be possible without the initial rough write that happens on day 1.


  8. Li @Flash Fiction
    Dec 13, 2011 @ 09:12:10

    It’s a fine line, deleting just enough to tighten but not enough to leave readers scratching their heads because you left an important bit out. (I’m often guilty of the latter.)
    Thanks, Stu, and great choice of subject, Frederick – I think the lead and the eraser are equal partners in the writing process :-))


  9. Mary Hudak-Colllins
    Dec 13, 2011 @ 12:01:51

    I think they both have equal weight in my writing world 🙂 This is an excellent post! I usually just ‘write’ with not much edit, but after reading your post, I have seen several areas where I could cut my wordiness down considerably. Thank you for sharing!


  10. Corinne O'Flynn (@CorinneOFlynn)
    Dec 14, 2011 @ 00:15:09

    I spend a ton of time deleting when revising, but perhaps the important part for me is not just to remove the junk but to begin weaving in more of what works. Great post Frederick! And I agree, you’re a nice guy. *cheers*


  11. Rick Gualtieri
    Dec 14, 2011 @ 07:42:58

    Excellent article, Frederick and much appreciated too. It’s good to see the “art” of editing get the spotlight. Too many times it’s treated like the troll under the bridge.


  12. Kay Martin
    Dec 14, 2011 @ 15:45:41

    Great reminder – delete key. I get hung up sometimes while editing. I tend to fall in love with my charaters.


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