You know when you’re editing a piece of your writing and you come across a little something that you love – it’s one of your favourite parts of the whole text – but you know, deep down… it doesn’t belong there?
Your instinct is shouting ‘Cut! Cut! Cut!’
But, you argue, it’s such a lovely piece of writing. It’s one of your best descriptions. It’s so witty and clever.
Even if it is stopping the flow or causing confusion….
What to do?
The conventional wisdom is to kill your darlings.
This Writer’s Rule is inspired by the quote from Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch; “Murder your darlings.”
And William Faulkner; “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”
And Stephen King: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
In other words, those bits that you especially love: delete.
What writer would ever want to do that?!
I know the sentiment behind this is useful – if your darling is somewhere it doesn’t belong – yes, you should get them out of there.
But kill them? Is that really necessary?
I believe there is a happier alternative – one that will improve the quality of the writing (by getting rid of what isn’t working) but also make for a less tortured writer.
(Angst does not necessarily equal good writing.)
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Create a ‘Rescue Your Darlings’ file
Here’s what to do;
1. You bravely extract your little darling. (Which, in another place or time could be your finest work.)
2. You paste it into your new file: a dedicated home for errant darlings – those little gems that you love but aren’t quite sure where/if they belong.
3. You heave a sigh of relief.
The piece you were working on is now free to get back on track.
Your beloved snippet is safe from the vicious X-key.
And you don’t feel like you have to tear out your heart and soul to be a good writer.
But then – what to do with all those darlings?
They may find another home, some time in the future. (They will summon you when the time is right.)
Or the file could be a source of inspiration on slow writing days.
Or you may use it to bolster your confidence during the inevitable lows, when you are telling yourself that everything you write is rubbish.
(Watch how quickly Self-Doubt scarpers when faced with a file full of your darlings.)
The truth is, though – you may never rehome them. They may languish forever in your RYD file.
But the idea that they are safe – for now – will enable you to make the right decision to cut them.
Which will mean that the piece you were struggling with will work so much better and read more smoothly – without the agonies of dilemma.
And no darlings had to die in the process.
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