Keep your darlings when editing content

November 10, 2018


Editing content means being ruthless. But by irretrievably deleting snippets of copy, are you making a rod for your own back?

The best feeling any professional writer can experience is when their creative brain pops and snaps with ideas. When a first draft requires minimum effort and there’s a constant stream of engaging, witty, on-point sentences flowing from your fingertips. Life. Is. Good.


But then this prat called Editing — you can call him Edi for short— bounds into your office. Turns out he’s more of a buzz-kill than being out to dinner with a mate infected with norovirus.

Edi: “Erm, yeah…you’re going to have to ditch a lot of what you’ve written. Like, delete it forever.”
Writers Everywhere: “But why? The words flowed so easily. Clearly this is a sign all of it is excellent quality.”
Edi: “Well, you know it probably needs to be deleted because of word count? Maybe due to flow and structure? Or just because it actually sounds…shit?”


Sadly, Edi has a point

It’s tough love, but good content writing means cutting the fluff so messaging is on-point.

But editing your copy can also force you to ruthlessly delete work which could work perfectly in a slightly different context.

With that in mind, I’m here to argue that you should keep, rather than kill, your darlings and give you a really simple solution to shove it up Edi’s arse set this up.

Doing this could save you a heap of brain-ache in the long-run.

What happened when I got an about page really wrong

A few months ago I was commissioned to rewrite website copy for a small business owner. It was the standard homepage, about page, contact page and couple of product pages.

As always, the project began with a complete copywriter briefing session so I could get to know her, her business and the story behind it.

What I got was a beautiful, interesting, honest account of the twists and turns in her life that got her to ‘now’.

It was a solid briefing sesh, with a lot of detail but afterwards my mind was buzzing with ideas about which angle to present her story from. I was excited to get started.

There were two really clear, equally as important options: do we go the emotive, personal story route about how her products came to being because of her interests? Or do we explain the development of the products themselves, which resulted in the high-quality, practically unique items she now sells?

After listening back to our recorded interview, I decided to go with the former, more personal journey. This would form her website About page on her ecommerce site.

The first draft took shape and I got to the end of it thinking, ‘Cool, I’m happy with this. Just hope the client think I’ve done her story justice.’

And for a few days I sat on it.

And revisited her store’s website.

And re-read the copy.

And I realised that angle wasn’t the best fit after all.


Really, the second angle — telling the story of product development — was going to be more appropriate for the audience at that point in their buying journey.

It was no biggie. I hadn’t sent it to the client, so a rewrite happened. I used some of what I’d originally written, but then tightened up the product story and all was well with the world again.

But what to do with all the good content I’d created? Should I just delete it? This is exactly what Edi would want me to do. But what a waste!

Luckily, I’m a bit of a hoarder and can’t bring myself to throw things away all that easily — IRL or on my laptop.

There is a simple solution: start a scratch sheet

My thinking was, ‘well even if this isn’t useful for the initial brief, I’ll keep it.’ You never know what might crop up — either for the same or a similar client — and so this stuff can be tweaked and re-used.

Rather than delete the words from the world forever, I started what I refer to as a ‘scratch sheet’.

Now, I know a ‘scratch sheet’ is to do with horse racing, but I arrived at the name because when editing content, I say “scratch that” to stuff I’m not going to use.

‘Delete sheet’ works equally well.

Whatever you want to call it, it’s a word document containing all the passages that didn’t make the final cut. It’s a mish-mash of random taglines, headlines, paragraphs or fleeting thoughts that might not work for now, but aren’t totally shite.

It’s there for you to call upon when you need it. Like when your creative brain is going through a rough patch and doesn’t want to kick in.

Foresight is a beautiful thing

So, the end of this client story is my watertight argument as to why you should start a scratch sheet for each copywriting project.

A few weeks after I got client sign off for the about page, the same client commissioned me to write a second about page. This time for her blog. Here, a much more personal story was appropriate. All I needed to do was tidy up some of the original content and voila.

So good job I didn’t ditch the lot.


How much do you keep?

It would be impossible (and pointless) to keep absolutely everything you write. Some copy should never see the light of day.

For the darlings that do have potential, how do you log it all? Have you ever been in a situation when you’ve written something, deleted it and then thought ‘Ah, that would be perfect for this other project’?

Let me know in the comments below, or drop me a tweet.



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