How to Get Rid of Darlings

In 1914, Arthur Quiller-Couch was the first person to write, “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”

It is hard for writers to get rid of something they wrote and love. It’s hard for me. The words stand out as if singing, “Don’t cut me! I can be loved.” To erase them is a death sentence to something beautifully written.

Many writers cannot pull out the eraser or hit the delete key. They end up with prose that is hard to read and understand. I know because I used to find it hard to do the cutting and my writing suffered.

Nowadays when editing and I hesitate on a word or series of words, I know there is something wrong. But, I like those words, I tell myself. Yet, when I focus on what they mean to the story I find that the words cause the reader, like myself, to stop and ask, “What is this?” The words throw the reader off and break the momentum or tempo of the story.

I learned to get rid of my pet words by saving them in a separate file for “future use.” Even though I have rarely used them in a future story, it makes me feel better when I take them out of a story for safekeeping. My cute, favorite words still exist somewhere.

Overtime, I do this saving less and less. I now delete the cute words I know do not belong and move on with the story. Although, from time to time I still find myself saving some favorite words in a file. It is always possible I could use them in some future story.

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