When NOT to kill your darlings



“Kill your darlings” goes the old writing rule. It is generally understood to mean that the bits you like best about your writing might well be among the bits you have to remove to get your manuscript ready for publication.

The problem is to judge which favorite bits need to get the ax. Sometimes you have a favorite bit of dialog or a scene that you love because you feel it is a good example of your best writing work. Only it doesn’t fit in with the story you’ve placed it in. That’s a ‘darling’ that needs to be ‘killed’. Or put aside for some future work that it will work in.

But there is a way of taking it too far. Perhaps you are the next Louis L’Amour and writing the Western novel is what makes you want to be a writer. But ‘kill your darlings’, someone says, and what they mean by it is that you are to get rid of your beloved gunslingers, cowboys and mustangs, and write something that sells, like erotic romance. Even though that particular genre makes you want to wash your brain out with acid.

But that’s not ‘killing your darlings’. More like killing your prospects of having a writing career. Because the successful writers and the well-loved writers are writers that love their genre, and love the sort of things they are writing about. In a book I’m currently reading the author suggests that in your first draft, you should be all about writing what pleases you. Only in subsequent drafts need you care about pleasing your reader. Because if you don’t love what you write, why should your reader?

2 thoughts on “When NOT to kill your darlings

  1. I agree, that advice is much misused. So many celebrated writers have said that first you must write for yourself–you must love what you write–before you can find readers who also love what you write. So if we kill all our “Darlings” we kill all we love about our writing. But I do believe we have to be careful with our “darlings,” make sure we haven’t indulged them too much, make sure they truly work here and advance the story, deepen it or enliven it, and if it’s just unneeded embellishment, then we do need to cut it, and perhaps save for where it would work best.

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