How to Edit Old Story Ideas: The Delete Key Is Not Your Friend

How to Edit Your Writing


About six years ago, maybe more, I started writing a short story about a retail cashier dealing with the back-to-school rush at her store. Yeah, that was inspired by my own time in hell, er, retail, which was especially awful during back-to-school because the store was flooded with bratty kids trashing the store.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with kids. I have a problem with parents who refuse the discipline their kids. When I was little, if I pulled something off a shelf in a store, my parents told me to put it back, where it went, and neatly, because it wasn’t fair to leave a mess for someone else. And then they stood there and made sure I did it. Probably one of the few things they were right about, and that’s a very short list.

So, fast forward to when I’m an adult and working in a store, and I discover parents today don’t seem to teach this shit to their kids. Maybe a few do, but the majority that visited my place of employment didn’t. So I had to always put shit back so as not to inconvenience a cashier, but when I grew up and became a cashier, no one returned the fucking favor. Meanwhile, the parents did manage to find time to yell at me about things I had no control over, like the store being out of stock of something they wanted, or prices not being cheap enough, or limits on the really cheaply-priced items because they had ten kids and six erasers at the deep-discount price wouldn’t cut it, and somehow it was all my fucking fault they couldn’t use a condom.

So to make myself feel better, I started a short story in which a bratty little kid at a store gets abducted by aliens while his mom yells at a cashier about something stupid. I never finished it, because I wasn’t really inspired to figure out what happened when the aliens got him up to their spaceship. I always thought it was a great scene and I’d come back to it later and finish it, but for a long time, I didn’t.

I wrote other stuff.  I wrote my first book, Stupid Humans, and I wrote other short stories. I kept thinking I’d use that half-finished story as a scene in something, but I never had an “Ah-ha!” moment where I found the right place for it.

One day, while contemplating the Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes series I do here on my blog, I started thinking about all the former coworkers, bosses, and annoying customers I’d dealt with at work. Could one of them inspire the next piece of flash fiction?

Editing Your Writing

Then I remembered my half-finished story and decided to find it, which involved digging out my old terabyte hard drive, hooking it up, and combing through hundreds of badly organized files trying to find the damn thing. Naturally, I had no idea what I’d named the file. I found all sorts of stuff, including a couple other unfinished stories I decided to save for future use, and a couple of trunked second drafts of first and second novels I wrote years ago. Definitely didn’t feel like dealing with that.

After about three hours, I managed to find the damn thing. Now, how to finish it? How to edit my writing effectively? It occurred to me that having the kid abducted wasn’t really fair, since his mom was really the asshole in the story. Also, I had played with the idea of the cashier getting abducted, since I often fantasized about being beamed up into an alien spaceship when forced to toil in that miserable hellhole. If the aliens couldn’t take my damn customers, maybe they could get me off this damn rock?


But I still didn’t know what the aliens wanted, and I’d already written a story about an alien abduction from a busy store, so I wanted to do something different. I’d always wanted to write a parallel universe story, so I decided to get rid of the aliens entirely, leave the annoying asshole customer at the register, and have the cashier sucked into a parallel universe.

Suddenly, I had lots of ideas. How could things be different in this other universe? What if no one over there ever decided the customer was always right? Ultimately, my short story turned into a next-novel start. I’m currently at about 28,000 words, and enjoying my custom-designed universe. (Who doesn’t want to be in charge of their own universe?)

A couple people in my writing group like to say you should never throw away anything you write, even if you think it’s awful, because you might re-purpose it someday. Me, I never throw anything away because I’m too lazy to find the file on my computer and delete it, but you get the idea. (I’m also too lazy to delete anything in my inbox, so I can pretty much find any email I’ve ever sent or received ever. Laziness is handy.)

All this thinking about parallel universes has made me ponder if there’s another universe where I decided to stick with the alien abduction story. I wonder how it turned out?

V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”


Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes Taking Nominations

Do you know an annoying person (coworker, boss, neighbor, relative, whatever) you’d like to see beamed up into a spaceship? I can help. I mean, I can’t actually get the aliens to come pick them up, unfortunately—if I could, I’d be long gone from this rock. Sadly, despite my best efforts, the aliens have refused to talk to me. (The people at the Very Large Array did finally drop that pesky restraining order though, so maybe I’ll try again.) Anyway, I can’t get the aliens to abduct the annoying people in your life, but I can sure write a piece of flash fiction in which they get abducted by aliens.
Here at Stellar Sarcasm, I do a series of science fiction stories about alien abductions called Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes. Here’s the deal: Message me here or on my Facebook page and tell me about a person you’d like to get abducted by aliens. Names will be changed to protect the guilty and me from lawsuits. When I’m not working on my next science fiction book, I will write a piece of flash fiction in which this person gets hauled off to another planet in a comical and satisfying way, and post it here on my blog.


V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”


Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes Anonymous, Story #1: Brandy goes Bye-Bye

Note: Today begins our first installment of Aliens Abducting Annoying Assholes Anonymous, in which readers send me stories about annoying people they know, and I write a story in which the annoying person gets abducted by aliens. First up is an anonymously submitted tale about an office worker who stinks…and gives her coworker the stink-eye.


Darryl hunched down over his computer, trying to breathe through his mouth. It was bad enough his cubicle-mate, Brandy, smelled like she hadn’t showered since the last time he used his phone to make a phone call. But now she was giving him the stink-eye, which was ironic considering she was the one who stank.

What did I ever do to her? Darryl had no idea. Well, he’d thought about leaving a stick of deodorant on her desk, but he never actually did it, so what was her problem?

His computer dinged to let him know a new message had arrived, and he clicked it on, leaning over and pulling his shirt over his nose as he did so. What did Brandy do, spray on Eau de Garbage every morning?

Signature needed urgently for shipment downstairs, read the message.

Finally! He could leave the cubicle! He almost breathed a sigh of relief, but decided to wait on taking a deep breath until he was clear of the cubicle.

He took the stairs, savoring the clean air, and walked slowly to the loading dock in the warehouse’s first floor, ambling past stacks of boxes and pallets of merchandise. At the door, he was greeted by a short man in a UPS uniform, brown cap pulled low over his face.

“Sign here.” The short man shoved the usual tablet at Darryl. His hands had a strangely grayish pallor. Was he sick? Maybe Darryl could catch whatever he had and spend a few sick days at home…away from Brandy. Better yet, maybe his nose would get stopped up and he couldn’t smell her!

“Sure, sure.” He signed and handed back the tablet. The delivery driver handed him a box and hurried back to his truck.

“OPEN IMMEDIATELY,” read a neon orange sticker on the box.

Darryl was in no rush to get back to his desk, so he sat down on the nearest pallet and tore into the box. Inside was a small, round, black device that he guessed to be some sort of Bluetooth speaker. Oddly, there was no packing slip or instructions of any kind. Was this for a customer shipment? Without proper documentation, he had no idea. Hopefully he’d get a phone call or email to explain it later.

After killing some time in the break room, drinking bad coffee and chatting with coworkers about the Lakers’ latest loss, he begrudgingly dragged himself back upstairs and returned to his cubicle, strange black device in tow.

The smell assaulted his nostrils and he sat down, dumping the device on the desk. Brandy turned, gave him a filthy look, and another wave of body odor hit him. She smelled somewhat like how he imagined roadkill smelled after baking on the highway in the July heat for four or five days. He nodded and turned back to his desk, slapping his tie over his nose. How many minutes until he could leave for lunch?

Just then, a noise from above caught his attention and he looked up, tie still draped over his nostrils.

His first thought was that the smell had driven him insane. He couldn’t actually be staring at a bright light pouring through a hole in the ceiling, or an Escalade-sized spaceship swooping through and hovering over Brandy’s desk.

She looked up with alarm. “What the hell?”

The spaceship was round and suspiciously saucer-shaped, with tiny lights studding the edges. It looked an awful lot like a prop from some old black-and-white science fiction movie. Darryl blinked several times, but it was still there, and then a hatch popped open on the side and an alien leaned out.

It was a little gray guy with a top-heavy head, large black eyes and a tiny, pinched nose which was probably an advantage so close to Brandy.

It pointed at her. “You must come with me.”

“I will not!”

“Our sensors picked up your scent. Your human suit is failing.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Brandy backed away, but the spaceship followed her, and the alien extended a hand with what looked like a small, oddly smooth handgun.

“I’m afraid you do. You escaped from us months ago, and you’d still be getting away with it, but I guess you didn’t know you have to shower regularly to keep your human suit from leaking your scent.” The gray alien pointed at her. “You will return to the garbage barge and resume serving your sentence.”

“This whole thing is crazy.” Brandy backed away. “I’m no alien.”

“Yes, you are, and the scent signature leaking from you suit confirms it.” The alien fired the weapon and Brandy slumped to the ground. It—Darryl had no idea how to tell the sex of an alien—hopped out of the spaceship, slung her over its shoulder like she weighed nothing, and climbed back up into the ship.

“What was she serving time for?” Darryl asked.

The alien paused, four-fingered hand on the doorframe. “She served on our governing council, and was caught misusing public funds. Unlike you humans, we don’t respond to that sort of offense by voting the politician in to another term—we remove them from office and sentence them to twenty years of servitude on a garbage barge. We do apologize for any inconvenience. Say, could you toss me that GPS device? Now that we’ve found her, we’d like it back.”

It pointed at the black “speaker.”

“Sure thing.” Darryl tossed it to the alien and gave him a friendly wave as the hatch closed and the ship flew away. Then he sat down, took a deep breath, and exhaled a sigh of relief.

The alien’s planet sounded nice. Maybe one day he’d take a vacation there.

V. R. Craft is the author of Stupid Humans, the first in a #scifi series that asks the question, “What if all the intelligent humans ran away from Earth—and we’re what’s left?”