Sunday, September 22, 2013

Killing the Darlings

It is difficult to let go of a phrase you love, but your love for it might be the proof that you should. This comes home to me as I review comments from my editor.
As with many great quotes, the attribution for “You must kill your darlings” is in dispute. Faulkner, maybe, or Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. Regardless, the sentiment is the same when it comes to writing: you must sometimes murder your favorite child.
In his book On Writing, Stephen King says, “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”    
That’s why a writer is both eager and full of dread when she gets a manuscript back from an editor.
I’m re-reading my latest draft but, for the first time, with notes from my editor. When I spot a comment, all dressed up in a blue box, further down the page, it’s all I can do to keep from scrolling to it. Instead, I carefully read through the lines, accepting or (rarely) rejecting the minor punctuation suggestions she has made, all the time distracted by what might lie in wait.
More often than not, the comment is about a minor change she is suggesting, but occasionally she thinks I should rewrite a sentence or throw away a paragraph all together. The first image that comes to mind when I think of ripping out a paragraph is seeing it there on the floor, connecting tissue and arteries severed, quivering in the throes of death.
But they are only words. I can make more of them. Better, I can say the same thing with fewer words.
So, today (and the next few days) are for darling killing. Your condolences are appreciated.

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