February 22, 2011

How to Save Your Writing

I'd love to be brave, like Cynthia Leitich Smith, write a first draft, get to know my characters and story, then delete it. But I'm a pack rat when it comes to my work. Nothing goes away for good.

For each story, I create a file named EXCISIONS, and fill it as I revise successive drafts. Maybe it's backstory waiting for the appropriate placement. A scene that doesn’t quite advance the plot. Stilted dialogue. Tangents—oh, yes, lots of those!

I may never use any of it, but I feel better knowing it’s there. Just in case.

Since it's so easy to save things digitally, why not, if for no other reason than to show how much you’ve grown as a writer? Those reminders are priceless when you’re feeling low. And they'll come in handy when you've been invited to speak at schools and conferences (dream big!) about your writing process.

What about you? Do you have a special place for your deathless prose?


  1. My heart nearly stopped when I read Cynthia Leitich Smith deletes the whole thing! Yikes!!!!!

    I save it all! Each time I start a new round of edits/revisions, I save to a new file: Title 1, Title 2, Title 3...

    I never use it either, but it makes me feel better!

  2. If it's bad, I cut it. I don't think twice. If it has merit, but doesn't "fit," I save it to a cut file, which I never use.
    For the most part I depend on the snapshot function in Scrivener. It takes a full snapshot of my manuscript at any given point and stores it in miniature by date and hour, keeping it immediately accessible and viewable, unlike a Word file. I take a snapshot of my manuscript at the end of each day's writing.

    While I never use the snapshots to roll back to an earlier mss version, I often use them to borrow a passage here or there I was too hasty in cutting. What takes seconds to find scrolling through the snapshots would take me hours to hunt down in my bloated cut file. And I would never ever, ever, ever, ever delete an entire draft under any circumstances. EVER. Did I say EVER? :)

  3. Jemi: I know, I was astounded when I saw that!
    I tend to write over what's already there instead of making new files, but I do save my work to an email account, too.

    VR:I had no idea Scrivener could do that! Maybe it's time I bought it, eh? ;-)

  4. "Write a first draft, get to know my characters and story, then delete it." Whoa - that is commitment to craft and/or someone's got a lot of time and patience.

  5. Great post! I had no idea such a practice of writing existed. I could never delete and start again. It would feel too much like college when I hit delete by accident and lost more than one paper.

  6. Stephanie: I think Cynthia views her first draft as a kind of writing exercise.

    Michelle: Hope you're remembering to back up your writing, either to a flash drive or online.

  7. I'm a total pack rat. Like you, I keep a file of deleted words, and sometimes it gets almost as long as the book itself! But I have gone back to pull out lines or scenes. Because sometimes the things I pull in a fit of cutting, really ought to be there.


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