Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Kill Your Darlings

If you are a writer, author, or simply aspiring to be published, I am sure you have read Stephen King's not-to-be-missed tome "On Writing".  A brilliant how-to/personal journey from the master of all scary things, it is the single reason I decided that my little stories could be more than little stories.  I decided that a year and a half ago and now I have six published works.

There are so many lessons I took from that book, it's hard to point them out in one post.  But there is one tip that I have never forgotten: Kill Your Darlings.  Mr. King invites us to write until our pages overflow on the first draft, intending to please only ourselves.  Then, put on your critical hat, take out your bloodiest red pen, and prepare to leave wreckage.

Kill your darlings means to be able to hit the delete key.  And not just for a couple of words.  I mean, highlight HUGE chunks and blast them into the stratosphere.  It's not easy.  After all, you lovingly created those words, gave birth to them, nurtured them. They are your darlings.  And you have to kill them.  Sadly, they must go.

This hasn't happened to me in a while, but it did last week.  I went on an absolute tear, writing for a hours.  I thought I had this amazing concept for a story and literally SPILLED words onto the laptop.  They couldn't get out of me fast enough and I barely stopped to breathe during the immersion.  Then, exhausted, spent, I collapsed into bed.

I woke up the next morning and my first thought was this: the premise didn't work.  I crawled out of bed and regarded the laptop hesitantly.  The failed story was in there.  If I opened it, I had to fix it.  I couldn't face it.  So i let other things take my attention the remainder of the day and busied my brain away from the story.
And then night came, everyone else went to bed and it was just me and Laptop.  Musina was there too and she kept nudging me. She poked and prodded until I flipped open the laptop and knew I had to do it.  I had to let my story go.  I had to kill my darling.

I re-read it one more time and knew it's time was over.  Quickly, before I could lose my nerve, I highlighted the lot, and jammed the delete key.  Angrily.  It HURTS to kill them.  But, I did.  And then the most amazing thing happened.....a new idea spattered across my mind.  I wrote again, long and obsessed, but this time it was different.  I knew I was playing the right notes on my literary piano.  I finished a new short story I am proudly calling The Serial Killer's Wife.  Spooky, right?

So, like Stephen King says, you have to kill your darlings.  If you don't absolutely love every word you've written, your reader won't either. They will know, as surely as you do.  Only when the mediocrity is removed, is there room for excellence.

8 comments:

  1. You scare me sometimes Samantha

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    1. But in a deliciously good way, right?

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  2. Stephen King's 'On Writing' sits in an honored position on my desk; right at hand beside the computer. I've passed the info to my blog readers, too! When someone asks what the best writing advice is, "Kill Your Darlings" is at the top of the list...your bloody voracious readers will thank you. Love this post, Samantha, works with your new book, too!

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    1. Thank you CK, I'm grateful you are always such a loyal reader of the blog!

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  3. Sometimes I get away with squidging my darlings into a ball and making something new. But yes, it has to be about the story and not about what makes me feel good!

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  4. On Writing is one of the most helpful how-to books out there. And why not, its written by one of the most famous, if not THE most famous author of all time. Plus, he taught English so there you go.

    By the way Sam, I love this line: Only when the mediocrity is removed, is there room for excellence.

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    1. Thank you Cyn, its a "always strive for your personal best" kind of thing for me.

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  5. I'm doing this. At the start it hurts, but it's also funny to do. The only thing, i would prefer to stay away from a writing for a bit before hit the delete button, so is easier to understand why you have to kill your darlings.

    Also, while i'm writing this, I'm going to kill some darlings.

    A good thing to know. Darlings suck. Only their own authors love them.

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