Revision is a key step in writing and one that I have come to enjoy. It wasn’t always that way. I viewed any time I spend revising as time I wasn’t creating. That is obviously not the case and it took me some time to get over that, but there is one part of revision that will always sting. When you find a section that isn’t your best work, how do you know when to dump it and when to fix it?
DON’T DOUBLE DOWN
Once you realize that what you have in front of you isn’t any good, stop and assess whether it is worth continuing. Many writers try to save a dying draft because of the time and energy they put into a piece. Just because you are emotionally invested in your written words doesn’t mean they are readable. Know when to cut and run.
SOFTEN THE BLOW
Instead of highlighting 30,000 words and hitting the “delete” key, create a “dump” folder. It is entirely possible for you to go back into this folder later and retrieve key pieces of information or plot, but the odds are that you won’t. In my heap, I label and sort paragraphs, scenes, and whole chapters. Some sections are totally useless and idle nonsense. Other sections are about characters and settings that I find fascinating but would bore anyone else. The book should be the story, not the history.
In the end, revision is critical when creating a story. Not everyone has the strength to let go of weeks or months of work, but it is necessary at times. When you’re famous and long dead, your children can publish your Silmarillion. Until then, please keep it to yourself.