Kill Your Darlings


My first teacher on my first day of college was Kelly Younger. I still remember the first lesson he taught: “kill your darlings.” Apparently this is a common saying in writing, but I hadn’t heard of it until then.

What you set out to write is not always what you write. And sometimes you start to really like what you wrote even though it drives you further and further from the core intention of the creative work. In these circumstances, you must have the maturity to “kill your darlings.

For software, the same is true — what you set out to build is not always what you build. And sometimes you start to really love these minor aspects of your creation that do not serve the bigger idea you started out with.

They built it wrong.

One of the most common pieces of advice I hear from leaders in the startup community is, “don’t waste your time working on things you shouldn’t be working on.” This is the same sentiment, but I like “kill your darlings” more because:

  1. It sounds cool
  2. It illustrates the actual source of the problem.

When you fall in love with anything, it’s hard to see the flaws. If you fall in love with the design of the thumbnails of the profile pictures hidden within the 3rd least visited menu in your app, it can be really difficult to admit that you’re wasting your time. I know that I’ve personally read about “not wasting my time on things I shouldn’t be working on,” adamantly agreed, and then signed off of Twitter only to continue work on a useless aspect of Momunt.

Build the wrong stuff, break your own heart.

How the &$*# do I know what to kill?

In order to increase what I will now refer to as my darling murdering rate (DMR) I have started a practice that I repeat every morning before I begin my workday. It’s a series of questions:

  1. Why did I start this company?
  2. What am I doing today?
  3. Does 100% of my time doing question 2 get me closer to achieving question 1?

If the answer to question 3 is no, the answer to question 2 is useless.

The hardest part about answering question 3 honestly is that it requires admission that you’ve wasted time or at least had bad ideas. Most of us are afraid of failure. It tastes terrible.

But just like a fighter, anyone can throw a punch. Very few can dodge. Even fewer can grit their teeth and take a hit. Keep going.

We all need to learn to admit when we’re chasing down aspects of our endeavors that don’t serve the greater purpose.

You love the idea you started with. The product must serve that purpose. If it doesn’t, kill it.

As always you can reach me at

Published in Startups, Wanderlust, and Life Hacking