If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.
– Arthur Quiller-Couch, “On Style”, 1914
I suspect this is a common strategy (certainly the twitter responses suggest it is), though I don’t think it’s one that gets discussed much.
As a grad student, I remember Kay Gross telling a story about a manuscript she worked on as a grad student. She had a sentence in it that she was proud of—a darling—but that didn’t really fit in the manuscript anymore. Her advisor, Pat Werner, cut the sentence out of the manuscript—and this was in the days where cutting a sentence out of a paper involved a pair of scissors. Pat handed Kay the sentence and said, “This is a great sentence, but it doesn’t belong in this paper. So, save it and some day you’ll find a paper it should go in.” Kay hung it on a bulletin board over her desk for months, but never did find a paper it would fit in, and eventually threw it away.
What do we do if we are writing electronically and can’t hang those darlings on a bulletin board? I start a separate file that gets saved in the same folder as the manuscript file, but with “Rejects” as part of the name. That’s not the most creative name, but it’s clear, at least. In an earlier twitter discussion of this, someone (I can’t recall who) said they name theirs the graveyard so that, if they end up using the text, it becomes zombie text. My favorite twitter response to Ethan’s tweet was this one by AC Rooke saying the second file is called “manuscraps”, which inspired the title of this post!
Others don’t start a new file, but instead let the text accumulate at the bottom of the manuscript file—manuscript detritus, as it were. Some rely on version control, and presumably some others are brave enough to murder their darlings outright.
I agree with Ethan that I’m more likely to cut text that needs to be cut if I know that I might be able to get it back later if needed. I’ve written before about getting words on the page, and on the inelegantly named “barf and buff” approach we use in my lab, where people are encouraged to spew words on the page and tidy things up later. Part of that tidying involves cutting chunks that, in the end, don’t really work in the manuscript.
Do you use this approach when you write? If so, what name do you give your file?