Writers: 4 Steps to Killing Your Darlings

© Barbara V. Evers, All rights reserved.
In writing, there's a phrase we learn early in the process:  Kill your darlings.

I wrote a short piece in a workshop a few years ago that became one of my "darlings."

The instructor told us to pick one character trait and show it in the writing.  I chose to create a character who was detail-oriented. I even volunteered to read it in the workshop and received lots of compliments from everyone including the instructor.  People even said it was publishable as is.

It wasn't.

I tinkered with it a bit, because you never submit a first draft, and submitted it. It got rejected. I work-shopped it and got very little feedback from my group.  I tried submitting it again. Rejection. I tried a third place and they rejected it but provided a suggestion. So, I edited it based on the suggestion and submitted it again.


Frustrated, I took it to my current writing group and asked for their feedback. (This was a very different group of people than the first time I work-shopped

I felt pretty stupid once the feedback started coming in. The problem glared at me off of the page. I knew where I had missed the mark, and boy had I missed the mark!

Sometimes our prose becomes perfection in our mind. Every time we read it we smile with satisfaction, we giggle with glee, we complement ourselves on the brilliance of the passage. We can't imagine how to improve on it.

In writing, we call these beautifully-crafted narratives our darlings.

Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.

My rejected piece was a darling.  The entire piece. I haven't rewritten it, yet, but I will. Right now I have to figure out how to be true to the character in the piece while fixing the glaring problems.

How do we kill our darlings?

  1. Recognize your darlings by acknowledging the sentence, paragraph, or piece has become incredibly dear to you.
  2. Ask for feedback from other writers about its value or lack of value.
  3. Kill your darling if the overwhelming response is it doesn't work.
  4. Copy and paste it into a document where you store all of your deleted darlings.  You never know when your darling might work somewhere else and this way it's in hibernation, not completely gone.

What darlings have you had to kill?  Why?

Please share your answers in the comments section of this blog,
so we can learn and commiserate with each other.


Duewester said…
I have darling's. They are the musings in my head as I go to sleep. Some are 40 years old. I enjoyed the read.
Thomas, I hope you find a chance to use your darlings some day!

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