Killing your darlings: on why cutting words doesn’t hurt (that much)

Photo: The bible-length book I wrote that will be much shorter when I'm done with my red pen.Don’t mind the random fruit loop sitting on the booster seat chair. I have a two-year-old. Enough said. The focus is the manuscript sitting in print form on my kitchen table. Epic proportions it may be, seeing it like that filled me with a sense of accomplishment. No more computer screen. This is real. And then I quietly freaked out inside realizing how much editing still needed to be done before I could get where I’ve been heading all this time.

Stephen King has a quote: “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric scribbler’s little heart, kill your darlings.” I’d say in terms of words, I’ve been doing pretty well at cutting since I laid this out on the table. A friend’s words recently reassured me: “None of that matters though, when you can throw your book down on the kitchen table like that and it makes the floor shake, you did good enough.”

I did good enough. But now I need to do better. So gone are the first 25 pages, the first words I ever wrote when the story first came alive. Gone are pages in the middle, chopping away at 200k words as if it were someone else’s words going into the trash. Although there have been twinges, passages I delicately caressed before hitting control X– delete would be too harsh so I keep those words in another file–I have found that it hasn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. Hours, days, weeks and years toiled away on the keyboard, and with one stroke those words are gone.

I guess, in the end, making it the best story it can be outweighs the pang of loss. And when the day comes I see it in published form, those years of words that will never see the light of day won’t bother me in the least. Because they were stepping stones and bridges to a story that moved beyond them. They served a purpose, and I can be content knowing that.


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