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Monday, September 23, 2019

Decluttering: Knowing What to Toss from Your Writing

Last week, I was reading a blog post about decluttering your kitchen. The object of the overall challenge is to declutter your house in a month. The author provided a list of kitchen items to toss. I was surprised how applicable the list was not only to my kitchen but also to my current writing project.

Novelty items or other things you senselessly save. In the kitchen, this is the cute useless thing you never get out but haven’t gotten rid of. I own a set of wooden mice from Finland that you use to decorate a cheese.

In my writing, I also hold on to “novelty items.” Often they are the odd facts that started my research into a particular topic. Last week, I read about female gendered references to the Holy Spirit in the early church. Now I’m researching Syrian fifth century Christianity and the poetry from this tradition. 

I can see this leading to a piece of historic fiction but I’m going to have to be careful not to try to use every fantastic fact that I found in my research. I know myself well enough to know that many of these facts will find their way into early drafts but will later have to be cut.

Get rid of duplicates. My kitchen is apparently where unwanted water bottles come to spend eternity.

Duplicates also find their way into my writing. Sometimes I use the same fact two or three times in a single piece. Early in my writing career I decided this strengthened my point, but really I’m just repeating myself. The duplicates need to go. 

 If I need to include a fact in paragraph number three and paragraph number seven, I need to find two different facts.

Things that belong somewhere else. In addition to water bottles, I found buffing pads, a hammer, and pair of pliers.

In addition to getting rid of duplicate facts, I need to get rid of the facts that don’t belong in this particular piece of writing. This was a big problem when I wrote The Dark Web for readers in the 4th to 8th grade. A lot of what I found was just too dark, suitable only for much older readers. 

It doesn’t matter how marvelous an individual fact is (think cheese mice), if it doesn’t belong in this piece of writing it needs to go.

Expired items. Tired old spices, fruit snacks from a by-gone era, and chili paste that has turned an interesting new color all need to leave my kitchen and be replaced with something fresh and new.

The facts we use in our writing need to be just as fresh even if we write about ancient topics. Last year, I wrote The Evolution of Reptiles and The Evolution of Mammals. Several facts I had learned in college had been tossed out as knowledge was updated by gene sequencing. It doesn’t matter if I could find these tired, old facts in print, they were expired and needed to be replaced.

Whether you are talking about your home or your writing, get rid of the clutter. When you do, what remains will sing.


To find out more about Sue Bradford Edwards' writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.  Sue is also the instructor for Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults. The next session begins September 23rd, 2019.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Sue--(I left the comment for Christa on this post. Ooops. ;)

    Your post reminds me how much I need to do some spring cleaning... this fall.

  3. Sioux,
    I do more of my spring cleaning in the fall because in the spring I'd rather work outside. That's for the house. For my writing, it is constant! Write, rewrite, cut, cut some more...


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