Early on when writing my first unpublished novel, I discovered I had a maximum daily output. Some days I’d write over 3,000 words, but the stuff I wrote wasn’t anything I could work with. I faced a hard choice – keep what I wrote and worry about it later, or delete it now and move on. The first time I chose to delete them, I selected about 5,000 words, and just like that, they were gone.
There are going to be days where everything one writes might fit so poorly with the surrounding story that it practically screams for deletion. I know there’s an urge to keep it, to hold onto it for as long as possible in the hopes that maybe something from it can be salvaged. This urge is encouraged in some writing contests like NaNoWriMo because it helps with the challenge (but not with the ensuing story). All of this goes to show that deleting massive blocks of text isn’t always a writer’s first instinct.
Developing this instinct requires courage and confidence that you know where you’re going with your story. Along with many other skills in writing, it will take practice to figure out when a passage needs to go, and when it can be modified. Even in the latter case, it still might involve deleting healthy amounts of words and reworking a passage with more frugal verbiage.
This might be the scariest part of editing one’s own work, but I find it helps to think of writing as a verbal form of pottery or sculpting. The rough draft is very much like the lump of clay spinning on a wheel or the untouched block of marble. Sometimes there’s too much material to work with, and it needs to go. Despite missing it, the end result will be all the more beautiful for the effort.