Deleting Good Writing

One of the lessons every writer must learn goes something like this: just because your writing is good doesn’t mean it works. This could be filed under the "not taking ourselves too seriously" section. In the process of recounting a story I can provide juicy details, detailed descriptions, and events following one another in quick succession, but if any part of the story takes the reader away from the larger purpose for the story, the final destination, sometimes the prettiest prose has to be scrapped.

This is distressing. Us writers believe we can churn out quality material and spin a good yarn. We want to convince ourselves that all of the details in our stories are precious, important bricks in the edifice that is our writing.

But a story is taking the reader somewhere, making a point, and generally trying to avoid side trails. There are interesting parts of every story that sometimes don’t need to be included. These details just confuse the writer and take away from the main point of the story.

For my book Coffeehouse Theology I shared a story about our most recent move. We didn’t have enough help, I prayed some very specific prayers, and those prayers were answered quite directly. In fact, there you have the story in a nut shell. Of course there was a lot of background information concerning the various characters in the story that I initially included, information that made their help with our move all the more significant.

Though the story appeared more complete in my eyes, I simply interrupted the flow of the narrative and sent the reader on a side trail. My editor slashed the story down, chopping off the fat and leaving the bare bones. Curiously, the key point of the story remained in place. Only now the distractions were removed and the reader can now easily find my point without having to sift through the extra details that, while beautifully written if I may say so, interfered with the story.

Sometimes we can make our writing better by deleting some of the good parts.