Hold onto your keyboards folks because if your a new writer, (and maybe even old), this revelation gonna have you quaking! Heck, I still find this term daunting at times and I’ve been doing this writing thing for years now. Anyway on to the good stuff.
This post is going to detail what it means to kill your darlings, when you should and shouldn’t, and a bit on how to cope with your loss of your dapper darlings.
What does it mean to kill your darlings?
To “kill your darling,” is a term that basically refers to the act of trashing ideas or pieces of writing that cause more problems than solutions, mainly parts of your writing that can endanger the overall quality of your writing as a whole.
In other words, its when you discard those juicy bits of writing you care about because it bogs down the piece overall. This could mean ditching a particular scene because its not needed in a story. Such as cutting sophisticated words or beautiful descriptions because it ruins the pace of your plot. It could also mean deleting epic scenes, removing lovable characters, erasing elements, etc.
But why would you do it? (I mean you poured so much time into your work…)
Well, deletion can be a vital part of perfecting and innovating an idea or piece of writing. No one types up a stellar first draft on their first try.
You’d usually kill your darling because of any the following reasons:
- Your darling isn’t needed and your writing would be better off without it.
-This could mean too many unneeded characters in a story that are confusing for your readers to keep track of. (aka. too many cooks spoil the stew.)
-It could mean scenes that don’t really serve a purpose but were fun to write or read.
-It could mean plot elements that are interesting but don’t go anywhere, or detract too much from the main story.
- You had a better idea or a new darling
-Basically, you’ve thought of ways to improve an element so you want to rewrite it or tweak your darling.
- Your feelings changed about your darling
-At the time you may have loved what you wrote or you simply put a lot of work into it only to find you either don’t like it as much as before, or you think your darling wouldn’t mesh well with the rest of your writing after progressing further into your work.
- It hurts your writing.
-In this situation your darling straight up bogs down the rest of writing, hurting it as a whole. This could mean it ruins your narrative flow or makes things seem inconsistent or less tied together.
-Or maybe your darling counteracts something you established before or maybe it just adds confusion. Basically, your darling sticks out like giraffe in a herd of zebras. (Weird example but you get the point, it doesn’t mesh well with the rest of your writing.)
Seems simple enough…
In concept, it’s pretty straight forward when it comes to killing darlings, but in practice, things can get a bit messy or even downright painful.
If you want a more mental look on why this practice can be painful I’d recommend looking up “Sunk Cost Fallacy,” which in a nutshell discusses how an emotional attachment to something, say “pouring hours of work into something,” makes it difficult to let go.
It doesn’t help that it can be confusing or daunting to approach this so before you do I’d recommend reflecting on the reasons I listed/bullet-pointed above before you start hacking away at your work.
Now on to killing your darling(s). There are many approaches you could take to killing your darling and this is typically going to vary depending on what you plan deleting and what your issue is. Ultimately, how you choose to approach this is up to you but here are some methods I’ve personally found helpful when revising my writing.
1.The slow rip. Ever have to peel off a bandage slowly because it hurt like heck to take it off. That basically describes this method, it’s when you discard parts of your darling bit by bit. This technique consists of you gradually discarding your work and rewriting as you go along. This isn’t as dramatic or painful as a full-on delete and gives you time to reflect on your work and maybe even tinker a bit with your old stuff. This method may work best for those who are still uncertain about what needs deleting or needs to be reworked. (This is also useful if you aren’t emotionally ready to part with your darling.)
2.Save and Slash.🗡 Basically, you save parts of your work you believe are still salvageable and trash the rest. These salvageable parts may later be reworked into your new draft or utilized in your new idea(s). This method I’d recommend to those who are more certain about what you need to scrap and what can be reworked into writing gold.
3.Purge. 🔥 You just delete it. End of story. There’s no salvaging or process of tweaking or deleting pieces at a time, you just discard it.
With that being said, I’d recommend not using the purge method without really reflecting on what your about to do. I’d also recommend not using that method if your feeling emotionally charged at the time or unsure of what you need to change in your writing. As writers, we struggle with a lot of things such as self-worth in our writing, impostor syndrome, writer’s block, etc. And during times of high emotional stress, we can act irrationally, I’ve heard a lot of stories where a writer purge all their work only to regret it later on because they could have used parts of it. In fact, if you’re considering killing your darlings I’d highly recommend you read my word of wise below.
Word of Wise:
Save your original drafts! Especially if you’re considering doing a major deletion or full-on purge of your work. I almost never entirely delete ideas, work, and even fragments of old writing.
There’s always a possibility that old work can be implemented back into the current draft or future projects and doesn’t necessarily have to be entirely discarded.
This simple act could save you tons of time and energy writing or it might even inspire a new concept or idea.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit grasping the concept of basically deleting something that’s been slaved over for hours can be a daunting thing to grasp, especially to a new upcoming aspiring writer. Especially in a world where deadlines are ever present and time is extremely valuable.
But what can’t be dismissed is the importance of giving up old pieces of work to improve upon the overall project. Doing so shows improvement and growth. It shows you’ve revisited and expanded upon the initial work and the idea in your head, and have moved closer to reaching that ever looming final draft.
I believe when a writer realizes killing your darlings are only part of the writing process, their work will not only become increasingly better, the writer will improve upon their craft.
If you want to read a bit more about this concept, or how in the past I personally struggled to accept this reality at first I’d recommend checking out my Avis Thoughts post: The Fear of Hitting Backspace.
Thank you for reading, until next time!