On "Killing Your Little Darlings"

For the life of me I can’t recall whether it was in Stephen King’s On Writing or Anne Lammott’s Bird by Bird (both equally fine books on writing, by the way) where I read the phrase, “kill your little darlings.” It referred to editing your work, and getting rid of unnecessary words, more specifically, those lovelies, the ones you hold near and dear to your heart.I received a set of line edits last night and it got me to thinking about the first ones I ever received as a professional writer. I nearly fainted when I saw page after page of almost complete red. This editor was asking me to eliminate nearly every beautiful word I had written. What would be left afterward if I did this? Like the amateur that I was, I debated and went back and forth with her about what should and shouldn’t stay in and why my little darlings were absolutely pertinent to the story. Lucky for me, the editor was patient enough to take the time to explain why she did what she had done, and I was open enough to follow her advise and edit my story properly. So, I picked myself up off the floor and killed my little darlings, and the result was a tight and finely crafted story.Editing my work got easier over time, and now, I don’t even think about it. As a matter of fact, it’s rare that I even get line edits back after I’ve had work accepted because I tend to kill my own little darlings off the top, but when I do, I just do it because, well, darlings or not, they were slowing the story down.Back to the slaughter house…

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