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Writers: Use a spill file as you edit

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As you revise your writing, it can be difficult to let some passages go. Maybe a scene or chapter is just too long. Maybe one part of the narrative jigsaw puzzle sounds good but just isn’t working with everything else that works.

Editing yourself (before you hire an editor or send it on to beta readers) is difficult. You don’t want to lose gems, even when they aren’t working.

A spill file makes editing decisions easier. Open a blank document. As you go through your work, cut and paste passages that aren’t working into your spill file. It’s not just deleted and gone. It’s still there if you decide you want it back. Chances are that when you’re done, you won’t want it back.

The spill file is the writer’s wedding album: you make a big deal out of it and then hardly, if ever, look at it again.

But you’ll feel better, be more efficient and, if there is something to treasure in the spill file, you can easily bring it back into your story or start a new story from that nugget.

Filed under: authors, Books, Editing, Editors, getting it done, manuscript evaluation, publishing, writing tips, , , ,

16 Responses

  1. rozmorris says:

    I do this. I call it my ‘outtakes’ file. The outtakes file of my current WIP, Life Form 3, is four times as long as the actual text!

    Using a file like this has freed my ability to edit for the good of the book. And although when I excise passages I don’t really think I’ll be putting them back in again, quite often I do find they are needed at a different point – where they work just fine.

    • Chazz says:

      Someone on Twitter told me she calls her editing file “mathoms.” it appealed to me instantly though I couldn’t tell you why.

      More in Monday’s post on editing. You might like that one, too, or perhaps share something more of your take on editing. (hey! Don’t forget you’re invitation for a guest post. Yes, I’m still doing author profiles & guest posts here!)

      Thanks for reading, Roz!

      PS still watching the saga if how badly Lulu has treated you. Another few days of hostage negotiations and we’ll have to call in UN peacekeepers and negotiators.

  2. I use the same principle in video/doc editing. It really does take the pain out of letting go…

    • Chazz says:

      Ah, old J-school friend! Among all the cakes you’re juggling, do you find video editing super speedy and easy now? ( I never had the head for video editing since it gave me headaches.)

  3. shirleymclain930 says:

    I truly appreciate your blog. They help me understand and learn new things, which will help me become a better writer. Thank you.

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  5. Having a spill file makes it less like killing them, more like holding them back a grade.

    Great article.

  6. Reena Jacobs says:

    Another great article.

    I kept deleted portions in separate files with my earlier drafts and found it so helpful. I’m a hoarder by nature, so have a hard time letting go.

    Another tool I use is the track change feature on MS Word. I turn it on, but set the view to final so the markups don’t distract me. Knowing the original version is beneath the surface is a world of comfort. Anytime I’m unsatisfied, I can always reject the deletions and start over again with the weeding.

    Here’s the kicker though

  7. Chazz says:

    Thanks Reena. Funny, Monday’s post is already scheduled (How I Edit) and I mention Track Changes.

    I’m so glad you’re here. I read your comments about the publishing industry to a friend (from Comments in the Take a Penny, Leave a Penny post.) If people aren’t up to speed and adapting at the symposium in the morning (Writer’s Union of Canada: The State of Publishing) I might have to read it to (or possibly at) them. (credit to you of course!) Things are changing fast. Sometimes I think cats like Cory Doctorow are the only people who see the industry changing beneath us as we stand still.

    The future is here. There will still be books and room for trad pubbing and look at that. I’m slipping into the edges of what I suspect will be Tuesday’s post wherein I review today’s conference…

    Cheers, Reena!

  8. Reena Jacobs says:

    Holy cow, I must have been tired last night. I didn’t even finish that last sentence. Ever have one of those sleepy conversations and you fall to sleep in the middle of the sentence, but you still say it in your mind? I don’t know how that happened the keyboard, but it did last night.

    Now that I’m awake, pickup where I left off. 🙂

    Here’s the kicker though, once I read through with all the deletions and stuff, I enjoy the changes so much, I typically just click “accept all.” Like you mentioned, “you won’t want it back.”

    About the future being here, I think Amanda Hocking is a perfect example. I use her name because she’s wide known in the indie world. 🙂 She couldn’t land an agent to save her life a year ago. Self-published, practically went from rags to riches. Later when publishers wanted a piece of the pie, she said thanks but no thanks. But guess what, she has an agent now–Steven Axelrod–same guy who rep Charlaine Harris (True Blood anyone?). She still manages her eRights, but Axelrod works on those more difficult sells.

    I see it as a win/win situation for agent and author. Publishers can win in this also, if they change their mindset. Print books haven’t gone out of style, and likely won’t for a long while. Sure, folks don’t visit the brick & mortar stores with online shopping, but they’re still buying. But anyone who’s tried to get their book in print, knows it’s a huge hassle. As an indie, I’d love to sell my print rights while maintaining my eRights.

    The thing is, publishers are still trying to be greedy–refusing to accept a contract which doesn’t include the eRights, so miss out on EVERYTHING. Really, what makes them think someone who’s selling 100k books a month (Hello, Amanda Hocking) and making 70% royalty on it is going to agree to 25% royalty? She’s already done the hard part. What can they seriously offer her?

    But like I said, there’s still a place for traditional publishing. They just need to be forward thinking… stop living in the old model.

  9. […] Writers: Use a spill file as you edit (chazzwrites.wordpress.com) […]

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  12. […] Writers: Use a spill file as you edit (chazzwrites.wordpress.com) […]

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