Postpone Your “Darlings”

“Kill your darlings,” as it pertains to keeping one’s writing concise and without extraneous ornamentation is attributed, incorrectly, to William Faulkner. But the concept is sound; as a writer you are prone to falling in love with each part of your creations, even that which you don’t need to make the story work. They become your darlings, and good editing means you will have to of course kill your darlings.

Unless you don’t.

Most people that edit out large chunks of a manuscript save much of what the excise. That clever conversation, interesting minor character or well constructed description may be weighing down your current project, but could be used in something else. Which is why I think it should be called “postponing your darlings” instead of “killing” them.

And even if you don’t use the actual words again, their existence can inspire whole new ideas. Just like getting an idea from something you see on TV or at the store, story concepts might rise from what got left out of other stories which in turn will provide its own darlings to postpone, which in turn could inspire yet something else. A (hopefully) endless cycle of literary rising phoenixes, with solid fiction rising from the ashes of postponed darlings from previous works in perpetuity.

Of course, the odds of such a chain lasting forever are small. But the point is, we writers don’t have to be so dramatic about everything. If you write something you like, something that speaks to you, odds are you will find a place for it to be eventually. Nothing’s killed unless you decide you don’t like it at all. So there is no killing of anything, really.

As for the darlings part, I’m not sure if I would call anything a write a “darling”. In this context, I find it too important to be flexible and willing to explore to let myself become enamored with any one section of my writing. If you’re that attached to something you have written, at least in the early drafts, that you have to liken it to killing darlings, maybe you need to take a step back from it all for a while.

Writers need not always be so dramatic about such things.

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2 Comments

  1. Laura W.

    I agree. Some people find the more dramatic phrase “kill your darlings” helpful during editing, though, because they aren’t even willing to copy and paste the darling section to another document to see how the story works without it.

  2. Very true.

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