As most writers know, good writing involves lots of rewriting, and this sometimes means editing out sentences, paragraphs, or stanzas that you’ve spent a lot of time working on. But it’s not always easy to discard what might be your favorite part of a story, essay, novel, or poem—even if it means the piece is better and stronger as a result. When you’re reluctant to hit the delete button to edit your writing, the experts at Writer’s Relief have a tip that can help: Almost kill your darlings!
How To Almost Kill Your Darlings As You Edit Your Writing
If you find that you tend to overwrite, there are a few basic steps you can take to start pruning unnecessary words and phrases from your work. Remember: overwriting is overkill! But even if you aren’t guilty of overwriting, there can still be elements—including well-written elements—in your manuscript that could be eliminated to tighten and improve your work. And since today’s readers favor shorter works over longer, editing your writing may improve your odds of getting published.
You’ve probably heard the writing advice “kill your darlings,” but that doesn’t make it any easier to let go of words, characters, or even storylines that you love, even if you know they need to go. So, what’s a writer to do?
It’s simple: Hide your “darlings” away! Delete what you need to from the piece you’re working on—but instead of saying goodbye forever, copy and paste anything you’re having trouble parting with into one master document.
Whenever you’re revising your work and decide something needs to be cut, but you don’t feel ready to completely let it go, save it in that master file. You’ve officially (almost) killed your darlings. You can then go back anytime into your master file of “killed darlings” and use what you’ve saved in your next project!
Why Almost Killing Your Darlings Works
The trick here is that, instead of deleting (aka killing) your darlings, you’re simply moving them elsewhere, and this can make it easier for you to edit and cut text. It’s scary to make cuts when you’ve worked hard to get something just right, even if in your heart you know it needs to go.
But when you keep the phrases, paragraphs, or sentences you’ve deleted safe in another file, you remove the mental block that causes you to question whether or not you should make that particular cut. The revision process will seem more low stakes, which can actually help you make bolder decisions. If you’re not happy with the new version, you can always put back whatever you removed!
You can also go back anytime into your master file of “killed darlings” and use what you’ve saved in your next project! You might find a character, plot point, phrase, or piece of dialogue that’s perfect for something new you’re working on. You can also rework these saved elements in different ways to suit another short story, poem, or chapter in your novel. You’ll create new art out of pieces you had to cut from old art—essentially using your past work as inspiration for new work.
You may find many of the things you save in your “almost killed darlings” file never get used again, but that’s okay! Almost killing your darlings still offers you a simple, effective way to make the necessary revisions and edits that will improve your writing.
Questions: Do you find it hard to kill your darlings, and if so, how do you move past the uncertainty?