The Virtual Dustbin

The last edit of a book is always the hardest. I’ve smoothed out the story and prettied up the paragraphs, but now it’s time to take William Faulkner’s advice and “kill all my darlings.”

Photo by Vladislav M on Unsplash

No, I’m not going to actually murder anyone–but many lovely words are going to die.

They really are my darlings. It’s easy to fall in love with pretty descriptions and interesting details, and it’s almost painful to consign them to the Virtual Dustbin–a file on my computer where good words go to die. I tell myself I’ll revisit them and use them in some other book, but I rarely do. Still, it makes me feel better to know they’re still around.

Remember this from high school? Old Mr. Cooper often seemed to get lost in the woods, forgetting Natty Bumppo ought to DO something now and then!

My pretty words have to die, because too much of a good thing is a serious problem when it comes to writing. The days when readers enjoyed long descriptions a la James Fenimore Cooper are gone. Books have to compete with movies and television, or, in the case of younger readers, thirty-second Tik-Tok videos! Attention spans are growing shorter, and a story has to move.

“Griff’s sole ambition as a boy had been to escape the everyday sameness of life on the ranch…. All through high school, he’d fed the old Cherokee every dime he earned, jacking it up on oversized tires, fortifying the bumper, adding roof-mounted lights and a winch, changing out the engine and transmission to add power. It wasn’t much to look at, but it had the guts of a monster…”

“How to Unwrap a Cowboy” will hopefully have enough descriptions to make you feel like you’re in Wyoming, but not enough to make you want to move on. You’ll probably never know exactly what modifications Griff made to his old Jeep Cherokee, but trust me, it really doesn’t matter. You won’t find out who Riley James’s father is either, but that’s okay. She’s not sure herself, and I can assure you that has no bearing on the current story.

The aspen grove, sadly overgrown with thistles – a perfect metaphor for an undisciplined novel!

And so I work on, slashing with my big sharp knife like an explorer carving a path through the forest–or like myself, struggling through my overgrown aspen grove (see photo above).

I promise you won’t miss these words a bit. They’d only get in the way of the story–but it still makes me sad to see them go.