The characters in my latest work in progress are behaving badly. They started out just fine: two tough as nails cops, one from homicide, one from robbery. They loved each other but it turned to hate, and now the death of her partner means they had to work together. They fight a lot, snipping at each other over crime scenes, each feeling a romantic and sexual tension but refusing to acknowledge it. But some how they were holding hands, and she was crying, then he was remembering how it used to be and suddenly, after work, they went to the zoo.
Yes, that’s right, my two tough characters ended up eating ice cream cones and laughing at the elephants. I sat down to read what I’d written the day before and realized things had spiraled desperately out of control. Thankfully, as a writer we're in charge. We can always hit the most important key on the keyboard: delete. I deleted line after line: no more zoo, crying, or holding hands. No more mushy stuff, I edited it back to tough cops and heady tension. That tension will be resolved but not with my characters turning into two zoo going softies. That’s not who they are.
The same thing happened in my own life recently. An opportunity came up that I’d long hoped for. I’d daydreamed about how it would be and here it was, all coming true. Except… Not exactly how I wanted it, more than a few significant details were wrong. Yesterday’s daydream was about to become tomorrow’s nightmare. Unfortunately, there was nothing to do but to delete the opportunity from my life.
In your life, as in your writing, it’s important to remember you’re in charge. You’re the one with the pencil, and more importantly, the one with the eraser. You can ask for an opportunity, but then decide it isn’t for you. You can order the chocolate cake but then throw it away. You can write whole chapters and then decide they don’t work.
It’s hard deleting, tough to remove big chunks that represent hours, especially when they still hold a perfect gem of a phrase or the shining glimmer of possibility. Hard, but not impossible, and it's so important; good writing requires good editing. Healthy living needs it too, you can’t be everyone’s friend, take every job, or do everything all at once. So when you’re adding in a healthy diet or healthy exercise, remember to edit out the things that don’t work. Even if you wanted them once, if you thought they were everything you needed, sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is delete.