Much as I used to believe that I must keep an iron grip on any words I have written because I don’t want to lose word count, I also used to believe that I if I wrote a passage, or even a sentence, that seemed especially eloquent or pithy, I must, at all costs, keep it in the manuscript, because … eloquent! Pithy!
This anxiety was even more destructive than my word count anxiety because it literally kept me stuck for months. In one case I had spent so much time (which I now realize was time spent procrastinating) on a few particular passages, massaging the prose, thinking that I was perfecting it when what I was really doing was overworking it, like an old dog works a bone over and over and over until it actually starts to get a little smaller.
Not only did I waste time by overworking the passages, but also, because I had spent so much time tinkering, those were parts of the book that I refused to give up – after all, I had spent so much time on them, if I pitched them, I would be wasting that time.
Trouble was, they were pivotal points in a plot that needed drastic revisions in order to make sense and the revisions would mean that those points would have to go away.
It’s possible that my months of fallowness were the result of other factors, including crazy hours at my day job, but I am now convinced that part of the blockage was those over-loved passages. Because once I decided how I was going to reshape the plot and then let them go, the new plot came together really quickly.
There are two morals to this story. One is that just as you have to sometimes let go of word count to allow new word count to grow, sometimes you have to let go of plot points to let new plot points develop, and you have to just take the loss on the time you spent ‘perfecting’ the parts you later scrap.
The other moral is that once you develop the skill to write well, you can write well today, tomorrow and every day after that. So, there’s no reason to hang on to your “good writing” for fear that that’s the last of it. It’s like hoarding and we all know that hoarding is never healthy.