The Power and Pain of Hitting “Delete”


I’m starting to hate that word. Today marks the beginning of editing my way through my Gospel book to get a couple of chapters ready to shop around (more on that later). Since I’ve been over the early chapters a few times already, I thought they’d be pretty set by now.

I was wrong.


Instead, I’m making far more changes this time around than ever before. And I’m okay with that. They are good changes and I think they’re making the writing clearer and more focused. That’s not the problem.
The problem is that I’m finding that I need to get rid of stuff I really like. As I’m discovering, that’s one of the keys of editing. It doesn’t always matter whether something is good. Every section exists to serve the whole. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.
For example, here’s a paragraph that I  used at the beginning of one chapter.
Like many kids, I used to assemble models—airplanes, cars, boats, etc. At least, that’s what I was supposed to be doing. I wasn’t very good at it. The kits came with complete instructions, but I didn’t have the patience to read them very carefully. Instead, I’d look at the box to get a general idea of how the finished product should look, and then I’d start working—this piece probably goes here; that one sort of fits over there; just push a little harder; some extra glue will help; probably didn’t need that piece anyway; I can cover that with some paint. You can imagine how my models generally turned out. Several frustrating hours later, I’d have something that looked like it belonged in a post-apocalyptic horror movie—a bad one.
I like that paragraph. I like the image of a small child hunched over a basement table trying desperately to jam mismatched model pieces together. I like the rhythm of the various clauses. And, I like how it led into a section on the ways we mess things up when we act without knowing the plan (i.e. the Gospel).
Unfortunately, that isn’t really what the chapter is about. Close, but not quite. Consequently, it introduces a thought that isn’t developed anywhere in the chapter. As much as I like it, then, it needs to go. I may be able to use it somewhere else, though I need to be careful about forcing it in just because I like it. For now, it needs to go.
Good writing in the wrong place is bad writing.

And, of course, this is true for any kind of writing. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a high school book report, a seminary research paper, or a book on the Gospel. Every piece exists to serve the whole. If it doesn’t, then it actually weakens the whole. Get rid of it. Even if you worked really hard on it, you have all kinds of research to support it, and you think it’s the best thing you’ve ever written. Be ruthless. If doesn’t fit, get rid of it. Your paper (and your readers) will appreciate it.

Hit delete. It hurts. But, it’s a good hurt.

[By the way, I don’t actually delete sections like this. I copy them into another document for future possible use. But writing a post on “The Power and Pain of Copying and Pasting Text into Another Document for Later Use” just didn’t have the same ring.]

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on April 30, 2011, in Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. That is the value of having a blog, too. Not only can you use the bits and pieces you excise from the book (btw, why not just call it “The Gospel Book”?) for a post, but you can get “meta” and write another post about the process.

  2. baggedemotions

    I know what you mean, I’m a writer and when I go back to one of my novels I find myself making corrections and changing things which is to be expected. But it really bugs me when I know that taking out a paragraph that I love and was so thrilled about, will make the story even better and more understandable. But that’s writing for ya. It mostly consist of re-writing! Check out my blog and let me know what you think! Have a nice day 🙂

  3. I meant “Gospel Book,” or “The Gospel Book” as a final title for the thing. You could put a subtitle under it, but “TGB” is simple, and tells folks what they are getting.

    But please don’t use “missional” in the title. The :15 is up on that, I think.


  1. Pingback: Time: my secret to finding more « Romancing for Thrills

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