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[What's Next?] Blank Slate
Written by
Cait Levin
February 2018
Written by
Cait Levin
February 2018

I have been plugging away at my final revisions and I’m getting to a scene that needs to be, basically, redone. The character isn’t working, and in talking with my beta readers I’ve realized that the character just needs to be different. When I make her different, the scenes in which she interacts with people are also going to be different and, I hope, better.

I paused when I got to the first of these sections, because I wasn’t sure if I should just try to fix the scene around the new character, or if I should scratch it all together. I think it still makes sense to have the introduction to her at the same moment in the story, but I think that the new interaction will be so different that it might make more sense to just completely trash the whole thing.

So what I’m wondering this week is: when you have scenes that need revising, do you work with what you have and just rearrange and rewrite? Or do you open a clean word document and start from scratch? I find that the old words are distracting, and if I have to look at them then I’m more likely to try and work with them. Personally, I prefer to start totally new, with an awareness of the context of the scene and what it needs to lead to when it’s over. Then, I just highlight the whole part that I revised and delete it. That feels a little crazy, considering how much time I’ve spent working on the words. But if something isn’t working, it’s gotta go, right?

Part of me is slightly nervous that I’ve just been looking at the thing for too long. I could be getting fed up with it and feeling like a purge is necessary, like when I get tired of having too much junk in my purse and just dump out the whole thing to start from scratch. It’s hard to tell what’s right at this point, but I do know that what’s there now isn’t doing the work I want it to do, and today, I feel like it’s gotta go.

What do all of you do in this situation? Do you save the old work somewhere in case the changes backfire and don’t pan out the way you wanted? Or do you just dump the purse, so to speak, and start anew? Let me know in the comments below!

Cait Levin is the Community Manager at She Writes. You can read more of her blog (when she stops watching so much Dawson’s Creek and actually writes more of a blog) here.


* This post was originally published in December 2014.

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  • Linda Carcavella

    I am in the process of revising my 1st act and realise I need to increase the dialogue of the female love interest, to expose her feelings etc. This will elongate the scenes, so editing will be required. As others have suggested, it is essential to retain bits of dialogue etc that might prove relevant elsewhere or, on reflection, better than the updated version. I have previously made the mistake of just 'trashing' scenes etc I thought weren't working, but older and wiser now, I can see the sense in retaining them. It's all a juggling act to ensure you have the snappy, inciting dialogue or imagery that is going to grab the attention of an agent etc. So worth the effort of putting in the effort to get it as perfect as you can..

  • Marybeth Holleman

    Yes, hang onto the "deleted" material. Maxine Kumin referred to the poems and bits of writing that she discarded as her "box of bones" that she could always return to and root around for material. I've always loved that image. And Cate, I love your process. I too have paper on the desk for jotting down ideas/issues. Sometimes in the middle of something else, like fixing dinner or doing yoga, a solution or a line will come to me, and I can just jot it down on that piece of paper, until I next sit down to write.

  • Paula Lozar

    In the situation you describe, I think you'd be better off starting over.  Because your character has changed, the way she interacts with people will be significantly different from the first version, so just turn her loose on a blank page and let her be herself.  Maybe the scene will end the same way, but the way she gets there has to be HER way, not an uneasy hybrid of her current and former selves.  That said, I agree with the ladies below:  Don't discard the earlier version;  copy it into a separate file and save it.  You may not reuse any of it, but it'll be there if you need to refer to it later in the revision.  (I'm working on a series of mystery novels, and this has happened to me:  I decide that a scene isn't necessary and delete it, then realize 20 pages later that it was a lead-in to another crucial scene, so I either need to restore it or approach the second scene differently.)

  • Patricia Robertson

    I agree with Martine about keeping the scene in a file in case I want to revisit it later. For me,  it all depends. Sometimes the scene is basically good and just needs revisions. If I'm unsure, I take the whole scene out, but keep it just in case I decide I want to use it later. Sometimes it's a matter of killing our darlings. I find it easier to do this if I put them in a separate file first. That way I've always got it in case I want to revise and use later or even use in another piece. I have one of these sitting alone right now in a file. I really liked it, but it didn't work in book I was working on. I'm thinking I'll be able to use it at another time. 

  • Martine Fournier

    I think I can best answer this by first saying that when I clean out my purse, I go through every item and make a decision about whether to discard it or find it a new home, or put it back in the purse. Maybe in a new location where I can access it better rather than digging around in the bottom? You bring up a great point. We all have different writing styles and have to do what works for us, but I highly recommend keeping all your material, even entire scenes you delete. Move them to a separate file if they're too distracting. You may at some point want another look, wish you could recall that great image you used, or even mine them for another story down the road. I tend to only "scrap" a scene when I can see it's doing nothing for my plot or character development. Otherwise I usually rework what I have. This is related to the fact that I never just dump out my purse contents :)