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A Writer's Guide to "Killing Your Darlings"

Updated on May 5, 2017

You're not killin' it until you're killing your darlings.

If you're a writer, a practitioner of this craft - a world builder, you're probably fully aware that all good writers are self-critical.

"Kill your darlings" is a nothing short of a segment from your self-written writer's manifesto, and if isn't yet, it should be soon. What does killing your darlings mean for a writer? Killing your darlings, killing your babies, whatever you want to call it, might sound like a murderous violent task, but I assure you, if you do it correctly, it doesn't have to be bloody. It's quite simple actually: If something isn't working in your writing, take it out. It could be a single word, a sentence, or even an entire chapter. As Will Rogers’ famous advice goes, ‘Never miss a good chance to shut the hell up'.

Your darlings are those sentences, paragraphs, or even whole chapters that tug at our heart strings.

They often lift us up and make us feel like we're floating in the clouds. They bring up emotions that often link us to personal memories. They haunt us when we re-read them. We love how these words are organized, and we love how these words make us feel.

The problem is we can be so enchanted by these words, that we forget what we're writing - we simply could not care less if it fits our story, or helps our writing in any way. In fact, these beloved anecdotes often serve us so deeply, but only confuse our readers. We love these words, but unfortunately, we do a huge disservice to our writing, to our readers, and to ourselves by keeping them.

This doesn't mean you should limit yourself.

I've always believed that the first draft, of any piece of writing, is always written by the writer for the writer. It is not until the editing process begins that we start to consider the reader. Write uninhibited, write with ambition, and don't concern yourself with labels, genres, or style.

We are not burying your works six feet under to be forgotten forever.

The great thing about it is although it's necessary to kill our darlings, we do not need to arrange for a funeral service - we are not burying your works six feet under to be forgotten forever. Why? Because chances are, that piece of writing, although not fitting for your current project, is probably brilliant. And, if it makes you feel some type of way, you do not delete it forever.

Instead, save them for later - open up a Word document, CTRL-C, CTRL-P, then save. By doing this, we can keep moving forward while also relieving a little pressure off ourselves.

Storycraft - Kill Your Darlings

Now the real work begins.

You've removed the offensive cluster of words; now you must fill the gaping hole in your manuscript. Start by re-reading the section, paragraph, or chapter before the portion you cut, then immediately, yes - immediately, write a new version of that scene. Don't over-think it, just let the words flow. Let the images in your head guide your pen (or keyboard - to each their own). Don't concern yourself with the bits of words you exterminated before, just write like it's your first time, and you're simply continuing the story. Write it fresh, write it from within, like you already know how, and I promise you, it'll come out so good, you'll be grinning from ear to ear at the end.

© 2017 Jocelyn Figueroa

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