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Kill Your Darlings

It’s tough to find a writer who doesn’t love at least some angle of their story. Why would we put ourselves through the brainstorming, drafting, editing, querying, and publishing purgatory otherwise, right? In every draft, there has to be some impetus to keep moving forward. Sometimes it’s a line, an arc, a certain scene, or a particular character that keeps us going.

So, what do you do when one of those much-loved elements becomes obsolete in redrafting? What happens when that bit you loved so much suddenly doesn’t fit anymore, like an orphaned piece in the big picture of the puzzle? I feel that this is quite possibly the most difficult process any writer goes through, and it’s commonly addressed with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek solution: kill your darlings.

I used to be so resistant to this notion (largely because of teenage arrogance that nothing I wrote needed more than one round of surface spelling and grammar edits. Please, slap younger me). I always took offense with this phrase because I interpreted it one of two ways: Fearlessly slay your characters, regardless of their importance to the plot. Or destroy what you thought made a draft good, to make way for the expected nuances of a quality manuscript.

It wasn’t until as recently as a few years ago that I realized one of the biggest realities of rough drafts: there are going to be things you like about them that just don’t work with the finished product.

A witty line of dialogue. A cinematic scene. A priceless character interaction. Or, in my case, an entire romantic subplot, and one half of said romance. These elements can be beautifully written, artfully profound…and still cause friction within the draft as it becomes more polished. Removing the bits that don’t work often feels an awful lot like everyone’s favorite pastime: pulling teeth. But here’s the thing no one ever told me about “killing my darlings” – a lot of times, you’ll end up loving the finished, sensible draft more than you loved the part you chopped.

Killing your darlings is pain in the moment…pure and simple. I’ve never met a writer who didn’t feel at least a small score of agony as they deleted that beloved line, or set out to rework an entire arc that no longer fit in its original state. But the outcome, when it all fits together, can bring so much more satisfaction than you ever dreamed.

My encouragement to you this week is this: don’t be afraid to look hard at your draft and notice the things that need to be rearranged, reworked, or removed entirely. Be honest with yourself about what works and what doesn’t. And then go to the cutting-room floor, and start the process of making this manuscript what it truly needs to be. As painful as the process may be, the final result is worth all of the effort. And, trust me…your finished draft will thank you for your bravery.

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