Killing your Darlings.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of slow (extremely slow) editing of a short story for potential submission to Palooka or potentially others, and I have cut out approximately a page of prose already. It brings to mind the old writing adage to kill your darlings. I’ve definitely slayed many in this piece, and I remember doing that sort of thing used to be incredibly hard for me. I’d copy-paste the section or rip out the page to save for later. But with this story, I managed to mercilessly delete for good without even saving the newly abridged version under a second version file. And I know when it comes to editing the novel I have written, it’s going to come out a completely different book. So now the question that settles in me is this: have I matured as a writer to be able to put the previous darlings behind me? Or do I just tell myself that to make myself feel better?

A little research lead me to discover that a more heftier version of the quote included killing your darlings without remorse. I had never heard that part of the phrase before, and, discovering it, I feel validated. It’s a good feeling for a Sunday morning when you have little ideas on what you’re going to write about in your silly blog. But I figured, if the lines or paragraphs were really good or worth any salt, they will resurface, just in another story. “The love of a girl from Kalamazoo” is just something that sticks, even if it has no place in a presently existing story.

So, goodbye, pretty paragraph of excellent prose; you were well written and nice, but you just didn’t fit the story. Perhaps we will meet again.

What’s your own experience will killing off your darlings? Do you find you do it often? Have they ever taken on their own life, reincarnated (or reanimated!) into an entirely different creature? It’s not a particularly engaging or original topic, but it’s all I’ve got for today, and that’s better than nothing.



  1. I’ve become much less attached to the things I write than use to be the case, but I struggle with understanding what the end reader might like. Presenting a piece to a bunch of english majors will result in a different range of opinions than giving it to nerdy 12 year olds. Someone could find that paragraph useful and entertaining, while others might find it laborius and detracting from the story.

    As faras me, I don’t keep an archieve of what I’ve cut so once its gone, its gone.


    • Yes, exactly! Keeping in mind the audience is what actually inspired the massive cuts in the current piece. When you read that the editor is a fan of prose without any excess descriptions, where the author says much in very little, the scissors tend to come out and chunks of text start flying…

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