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The Power and Pain of Hitting “Delete”

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.

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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.
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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.
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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).
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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.
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Good writing in the wrong place is bad writing.
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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.]

How to Placate the Typography Gods

Here are some good tips for keeping an editor (or picky professor) happy with your writing projects. (HT 22 Words)

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Thirteen theses on writing

Why do we write and what does it mean to do it well? Ben Myers’ thirteen theses on writing offers some thoughts toward answering questions like these. He certainly does not attempt a comprehensive answer (does such an answer exist?). But, he does offer some provocative thoughts in that direction.

You’ll want to read the whole post yourself, but here are some of my favorite pieces:

  • On Writing and the Fall: “Writing is for the fallen, for the soul cast out of paradise and lonely to return.”
  • On Kinds of Writing: “The difference between bad writing and mediocre writing is discipline. The difference between mediocre writing and good writing is editing. The difference between good writing and great writing is miracle.”
  • On Editing: “Good writers cull the overpopulated paragraphs of their work. Like a farmer protecting the livestock, the writer lovingly separates whatever is sickly and infirm – and then loads the gun.”
  • On Writing and Living: “To distinguish between writing and living betrays a deep misunderstanding not only of what it means to write but also of what it means to live.”
  • On Writing and Thinking: “Among scholars today, there is no error more pervasive than writerly Docetism….the belief that one can have clear thoughts regardless of the clarity of their expression, or that one first has an idea which is subsequently communicated through the neutral medium of prose. But between idea and form there is a mystical union of natures; to write well is to think well.”