When In Doubt, Delete
I have been trying to be a successful author since 2016. It is a solitary activity that is as frustrating as it is challenging, rewarding, and educational. Like any worthwhile activity, there is much to learn. During my journey, I have discovered a few techniques that have improved my writing, and I wanted to discuss one I discovered a year ago. When I locate a troublesome sentence, paragraph, or idea that is difficult to fix, I delete it. This method sounds simple, but coming to that mindset (trusting myself) took a giant leap.
My logical personality loves fixing problems, so I have great difficulty leaving something unresolved. For example, if my computer stops working, I will not throw it away. Instead, I would devote time and money to getting it working again, even if this is far more than it is worth. Therefore, it should always be possible to take words that are not working and manipulate them, so they do. Yet, this description is not exactly what I am trying to convey.
My deleting concept resides at a very high level. It is as if the universe is telling me, “Dude, this is not working. Move on.” How can I convey this concept? My first thought was to edit stuff for a week and show you examples of deleted material.
So, I collected ten deletions, but each one “Looked fine to me.” The problem is that a sentence or paragraph means nothing out of context. Another issue is that I was not able to explain my deleting logic. The only thought I could write was, “This did not work.”
Here is an example sentence that I deleted from this very article. “During my journey, I have discovered a few techniques that have improved my writing, and I wanted to discuss one I discovered a year ago. (Yes, it took six years for me to figure this out.)” As you can see, I deleted the sentence within the parenthesis. What was going on? I was trying to be funny, and it did not work. Yet, it read funny. Was there value in this addition? Yes, because the sentence added humor to a dry topic. Does this deletion make a better article? The universe told me, “Humor is not necessary.”
I deleted a short paragraph from my last article: “If you like the Twilight movie, great. I am glad you had a good movie experience. If you have not seen it, it is a very popular movie that many people enjoyed.” That is a less than well written thing, but with some editing, it could be valid. The problem was that the sentences were not within the theme of my article. After the deletion, the article read “smoother.” It was like the universe was telling me, “Readers do not need these details.”
The textbook method is: “When a section is not working, try deleting it. Then check to see if the deletion improves the document.” Another way is: “If a section frustrates the writer, a good first reaction is to try deleting it.” This philosophy is closer to my thoughts, but I have not entirely captured my method.
In the first draft of one of my books, I wrote a detailed ten-paragraph background on the main character’s sister. This section included discussing her racist husband. Writing this section was challenging because I did not wish to offend my readers. I intended to provide a rich history I thought they would enjoy.
I intended to show the main character supported his wife by distancing himself from the racist. This section underwent many changes during editing, and I felt I had conveyed a robust foundation. About six months ago, I was looking it over (not during an edit) and deleted the entire section. Was there any motivation like readability, flow, or character development? Nope. Only one button press.
I was reviewing this book yesterday and thought, “Hey, what happened to that sister’s background? Oh, yeah. I deleted it.” Was my choice correct? For this article, I looked at a backup copy. The segment read well, but I now see why I deleted it. I was forcing something. “I (the main character) am better than my sister because I did not marry a racist.” My gut was telling me, “Dude! Stop being arrogant. Delete this mess.”
Is this minimalist behavior? Meaning I give the readers exactly what they need and no more. I confess that my writing mindset does contain a minimalist attitude and detailed descriptions in my books and other books never read right. Yet, my explanation is still lacking.
After thinking about this topic on a walk, I concluded that this deletion mindset contains a zen attitude. When I get a negative gut feeling about a section, it goes away. Am I proclaiming to be a fantastic writer with so much excessive material that I have the freedom to delete anything? No, my writing ability is quite the opposite. It takes me eons to write down my thoughts, and deleting material limits my meager output.
My conclusion is if you are a writer, permit yourself to delete. How will you know? Mmm… I am still figuring that out.

You’re the best -Bill
April 17, 2024
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