Save That Sentence for a Rainy Day: The Shoebox Technique

It’s an easy writing sin to commit—like eating too much ice cream because it’s yummy. I know I’ve been guilty of it from time to time over the years.

What am I referring to?

Keeping that “perfect” sentence somewhere on the page because, frankly, it’s just too damn good to cut.

If you’ve ever been in this situation, you know the kind of sentence I’m talking about—it’s long, it’s flowery. It’s delicate and beautiful like a fresh-picked rose or a spring daisy. It’s ridiculously clever, or masterfully engineered, with an impressive use of terminology or vocabulary.

But like the Buddhist convert who learns that attachment can be one’s worst enemy, the evolving writer soon discovers that attachment to a particular sentence can be a dangerous thing. Yes, there is an art to writing, and you may have created a masterpiece in twenty words or less. But clinging to any one sentence as new ideas percolate, as your context changes, and as revisions are made here and there can lead to text that doesn’t flow—or prose that no longer makes sense.

To turn this difficult situation into one that’s painless, I use a little technique that a marketing manager of mine, and Kellogg Business School graduate, taught me a few years out of college. Chop out that text that no longer belongs. Excise it without impunity. But don’t shed a tear. Instead, cut out those gems that no longer fit in your piece and paste them into a virtual “shoebox.”

Your shoebox can appear at the end of your text document or in another file altogether. Heck, you can wrap a real shoebox with wallpaper and carry it around in your briefcase if you want. But delight in the new freedom to save what you love and still move your piece forward.

Maybe you’ll paste it back in later. Perhaps you’ll tweak it and reuse in a new spot. Or maybe you’ll end up keeping it for you next piece, or completely deleting it.

Regardless of the approach, good writing tends to come a little bit easier and a little bit faster when you are willing to pull out the mismatched (if genius) sentences and save them for a rainy day.

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