Guest Post! Writing Wednesdays: How to know when to delete your entire manuscript - with Gavin Hetherington

In this special guest post, Wattpader Gavin Hetherington shares his writing advice on knowing when to delete your entire manuscript.

As I mentioned last week, throughout August, I'm featuring guest posts for Writing Wednesdays from Wattpad writers - kicking things off with the brilliant Gavin Hetherington, who's talking all about knowing when to delete your entire manuscript.

Before we get stuck into Gavin's advice post, here's a little more about him and his writing...

I know Gavin through the Wattpad community and met up with him at Rebecca Sky's book launch for her novel, Arrowheart, last year. He's a writer of LGBTQ+ fiction and also works as a children's and young adult bookseller at Waterstones. Gavin is a Wattpad star and his LGBTQ+ debut, Heart of the Sky, won a Watty Award in 2018. (Congrats again, Gav!)

You can also find him creating some of my favourite bookish content on YouTube, and follow his Instagram for his trips travelling around the world volunteering, re-watching Disney movies (mood) and, quote, "binging shows (and original movies, wink wink) on Netflix". (Thanks for that TKB shout-out, Gav!)

And just before we get stuck into the advice post, here's a little more about Heart of the Sky:

Heart of the Sky is an LGBTQ+ contemporary retelling of James Cameron's Titanic. Awkward Brando meets suave Daxten at an airport during a delay for his transatlantic flight to New York City. The two boys bond but are separated when they board their long haul flight - Brando is at the very back in economy while Daxten has his own suite in first class. However, the connection they share brings them together and they begin their adventure forty-thousand feet in the air. However, Brando's ex-boyfriend is on board and he is getting increasingly jealous. Something is wrong, both with the plane and Brando's life, but will these moments with Daxten be enough to make everything right?

And now - on with the writing advice!


I don’t mean to sound dramatic, and you will hear many people tell you that you should always save what you write because you just never know when you may want to go back to it. But I have deleted an entire manuscript before (and it was for a story that went on to win a Watty award last year), and let me tell you, I have no regrets.

So how did I get to that point and what can you do to avoid writing so many words that will end up in the trash? Well, it will be different for everyone, but knowing when to call it quits and not just killing your darlings but incinerating them to ash, isn’t too hard so let me help.

The Initial Stages

You have the idea, and you love the idea to death. You begin to plan said idea, and the idea blossoms into the beginnings of a manuscript. It’s how every published novel is born, so you’re on the right track. I don’t know about you, but as writers we become so excited yet anxious about what is pouring from our fingers that it can make it almost impossible to look at what we’re doing with a clear mind.

Circa 2017, I begin writing my manuscript for Heart of the Sky, a gay Titanic retelling set in the present day and on a luxury airliner instead of a ship. I love my idea! I can’t wait to write it – so I do, and I pour everything I have into the manuscript because I think “this is going to be big.” I’m so blinded by the notion that I’ve hit the motherload because I love my idea so much and I think everyone else is too, that I don’t realise that what I’m writing is absolute garbage.

The Denial

We don’t set out to write something bad and we can’t predict what the final product is going to be. I only realised that I’d written the worst possible manuscript ever when I had only a handful of chapters left to write. It was supposed to be big; it’s going to go out with a bang! As I was nearing the end, my “heart” (or whatever the writer determines as a sort of indicator that we love what we are writing) started to drop. At this point, I was writing just to finish the story, but not actually do the story justice.

As writers we would never say that our work is perfect (and it shouldn’t be in a first draft), but we will always defend our stories. We will always see the passion behind the words and the effort we put into the manuscript. When you read your story back for the first time after writing it, and you realise there is not one thing you can defend, that’s a big sign that this manuscript should never see the light of day.

But you still may not be at that place where you want to delete it outright. I know when I first read Heart of the Sky back, I thought maybe I could salvage it and take parts out of it and start my second draft with extracts from it sprinkled all over like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster. But alas, my story deserved more. And then came…

The Acceptance 

It was hard. I had spent a long-time writing tens of thousands of words. It actually triggered my depression because I thought “wow, I am not a good writer.” It’s the hardest thing to say to yourself when all you’ve ever wanted to do is write. I had let my idea down because I thought it was the greatest idea in the world – but I did not do the story justice.

I took the leap… and I deleted the entire manuscript.

It was either sit on my computer gathering digital dust or leave my life completely. Out of the ashes I could start anew, and this time, I made some changes.


Without that first manuscript there, glaring at me and telling me that I’m a terrible writer, I could finally write the story I always intended. I gave extra care and attention to the second draft. I listened to my writer’s heart that kept pushing me on. I never hit that drop-off where I was starting to lose the passion for the manuscript – it was still good. The more I wrote, the better my manuscript became. Finally, I produced the manuscript I was always destined to produce.

It is all thanks to the first manuscript, but I didn’t need that ugly reminder that I had written something that depressed me. No one does. Consider your reasons for keeping that document on your computer and whether or not it’s for sentimental reasons, or if you’re actually going to do something with it.

How to Avoid Getting to That Stage 

You still don’t want to waste your time. All writing is worth it for experience alone but hoarding every single piece can also be damaging. If a particular manuscript has lost its magic over you, then free up that space with a manuscript you’ll be proud of.

If you are in the middle of writing and you find you’ve fallen out of love with it – stop immediately! Keep what you need to but move on to writing something that will retain your passion for the craft, whether it’s another draft or a new manuscript completely. I almost gave up writing after my failed first manuscript, and to this day I will always claim it was awful, and I never want to see that manuscript again. Even if I kept it, I’d have never opened it, so there’s really no point!

It’s hard enough being a writer and keeping self-doubt at bay – you don’t want your own work to be the trigger that opens up those wounds.

Thank you so much for reading and huge thank you to Beth who asked me to be a part of this special guest post!


Thanks again for the great advice, Gavin - deleting your entire manuscript is a terrifying idea so this advice is something I really appreciated myself!

Next week, I'll be sharing more from another Wattpad writer - stay tuned to find out who, and what topic! 

Don't forget to follow Gavin on Wattpad, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube - and be sure to check out his novel Heart of the Sky

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