When Training Wheels Become Hobbles

Training Wheels Off

I thought about calling this piece “When Safety Nets Become Snares.”   Both images work for different reasons.  What am I talking about?  I’m talking about the increasing reluctance on the part of some writers to throw any material away – a tendency that has been exacerbated by writers drafting on computers.

I’m not talking about those cases when an author cuts scenes or chapters from a novel on the request of an editor or publisher.  That’s a completely different issue.  I’m talking about the tendency of some writers to hoard any scene, even as small as a paragraph, that they have removed in the course of refining a story.

I’ve actually encouraged new writers to do just this when they express panic at the idea of getting rid of anything.  Over and over I’ve heard variations on: “But what if I realize later that this is a key element in the book and I’ve lost it?”

I’ll reply, “Cut it, then, and paste it into a separate file.  You can retrieve it later, then work it back in if you discover that you really need it.”

However, this useful technique can begin to bog a writer down.  I’ve heard of writers who have more deleted scenes than completed novel manuscript.  I believe that some software packages marketed to writers promote the ability to create sub-files to store deleted material as an asset.

Training wheels are valuable when you’re learning to balance your first “two wheeler.”  But the day comes when you take them off.   When you get a new bike, you don’t put the training wheels back on.  You wobble, but eventually you find your balance.  You don’t hobble yourself for all time with that extra gear.  If you did, you’d discover that those training wheels actually pull you off balance.

“Okay,” you counter, “but a new story isn’t the same a new bike.  It’s a fresh project.  A new world.  New characters.  New plot.”

I agree.  That’s why I thought about this in terms of safety nets and snares.  Even highly trained acrobats or tightrope walkers often continue to use a net.  However, there is a difference.  Acrobats pride themselves on reaching a point where they don’t need that net, whereas the writers who keep hoarding material are, in a sense, falling and falling again, holding on to each fall, even after they’ve advanced the plot or character or setting beyond that point.

My feeling is that if a scene or a character or a setting are really, really crucial to the story, it’s possible to recreate what was deleted.  I’ve talked to many writers who spend time searching for that deleted scene only to discover that what they saved isn’t as wonderful as they remembered, that they end up rewriting it anyhow.

After mulling over this, I think the difference between training wheels and hobbles comes down to fears and phobias.  A deleted scenes file can be a great way to provide writers with a safety net as they learn how to thin, refine, and otherwise improve their work.  However, if a writer doesn’t gain perspective on what is effective, what isn’t, and keeps storing up material, then all that’s happened is that the ability to hoard deleted scenes becomes a hobble that keeps the writer from learning how to balance – that is, how to write without training wheels.

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3 Responses to “When Training Wheels Become Hobbles”

  1. King Ben's Grandma Says:

    I would think, that like everything else in life, you have to trust in your abilities. If you’re relying on the training wheels or safety net too much, then you’re not really pushing yourself to improve.

    I’m not a writer, but I’d think that recreating a scene would be the better option than pasting in something that was cut out. Many writers have said that books grow and change as they’re written. I wouldn’t think a previously cut scene would match up later.

    • janelindskold Says:

      That’s why this is a balancing act. Learning to trust yourself is VERY hard. I remember when my dad took my training wheels off my bike. He promised he’d hold on and run next to me. He did. Until he didn’t. And even though I was actually doing fine, I fell over and crashed.

      Still, I think the potential crash is worth reaching a new level of self-trust.

  2. futurespastsite Says:

    I’m working on something right now that I wrote (badly) decades ago. It’s reassuring to have the old version (really old; it’s on paper!) but I’m finding that I don’t consult it much for the version I’m attempting now.

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