Douglas Light

Don’t Fear the Delete Key

One thousand six-hundred thirty-two. That’s how many pages I wrote for my first novel, more than 400,000 words. When the novel was finally published, though, it clocked in at a tight 220 pages—less than 70,000 words. So where did the rest go?

In the trash.

We’re all taught how to write. But writing well is a talent that takes time to craft. A lot of time. A good writer knows it’s not about saying more, but saying less. He knows when to stop—and knows when to use the delete key.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, most famously known for his children’s book The Little Prince, was once asked how he knows a story is complete. “It seems that perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add,” he stated, “but when there is nothing more to remove.”

This is true of all writing, whether it’s a novel, a billboard, a play or a company’s website. Every word counts. That means instead of a using a hundred words, use ten. Instead of using ten words, use one.

It sounds simple, right? It’s not. Finding that one right word often means considering—and then tossing out—all the wrong ones. But starting with the wrong ones is an important step in the process.

Think about it. If you want to carve a 6’ x 3’ foot marble sculpture you best start with a piece of marble larger than that.

That’s what first drafts are all about. That’s what my 1600 pages were about. I chipped away at those pages until I found my 220-page novel within.

I learned a vital lesson in the process: the real art of writing isn’t in the creation of words. It’s in revising and refining those words. It’s in discovering exactly what you want to say—and then finding the right word to say it.