Stop “Killing Your Darlings”

Emma Scoble
Sep 10, 2019 · 4 min read

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

No aspiring writer who’s trying to master the craft hasn’t come across this advice. It’s iconic for good reason, yet possibly one of the hardest concepts to act on.

History of Killing Your Darlings

The phrase “kill your darlings” has been attributed to many popular writers over the years, from Stephen King to William Faulkner, Oscar Wilde, and Anton Chekov.

“If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘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.”

The reason this practice has been misattributed to so many writers is that it’s great advice. And the fact that bigger writers than Quiller-Couch have made the phrase renowned is a wonderful thing.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

Killing Your Darlings is Heartbreaking

To kill your darlings is to cut any part of your writing that doesn’t further your story.

They Need Not Die a Complete Death

Buuut… to tell you the truth, I never really kill my darlings. At least, not completely.

“It’s a bit of a mood-killer just before the climax, tbh.” — my lovely editor Katie.

Yeah, okay. She’s probably right (almost always is, really).

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

The “Darlings” File

Unless I write something that even I can see is pure garbage, everything gets saved.

The Gist:

  • Killing your darlings is one of the most iconic cornerstones of writing advice, for good reason.
  • Despite this, it’s heartbreaking to follow through on.
  • Minimize your anguish by creating a “Darlings” file. Save your darlings rather than vanquishing them from the world. Having them still, even if only for your own perusal, can be a comfort during the editing process.

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Emma Scoble

Written by

Australian twenty-something who writes reminders mostly for myself.

The Startup

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