Today’s guest is Gabriela Pereira. Gabriela is the Creative Director and Founder of DIY MFA, the do-it-yourself alternative to a Masters Degree in writing. Gabriela creates tools and techniques for the serious writer so they can get the “knowledge without the college.” She earned an MFA in Writing from The New School and has taught at several organizations throughout New York City, including 826NYC, Everybody Wins and the East Harlem Tutorial Program.
Gabriela says, “The unfortunate reality is that most writers who want to do a traditional MFA, can’t. DIY MFA dedicated to helping these writers fit their writing into already busy lives. We develop tips and techniques to help ALL writers get the benefits of an MFA-style education without depending exclusively on school to get it.
We believe writing belongs to everyone–that every writer deserves the chance to learn the skills they need to tell their story and put their words on the page.”
Happy Easter, WU!
At some point in your life as a writer, you’ve probably had someone tell you to “kill your darlings.” In fact, this phrase is used so often in writing groups and workshops that—like its cousin “show, don’t tell”—”kill your darlings” has become one of the favorite clichés of the critique repertoire.
But do we really understand what “kill your darlings” means? As with most things in life, there’s an easy interpretation and we would all like that to be the end of the story. But if we look closely, we’ll find another interpretation lurking underneath, one that forces us to question who we are as writers.
The most obvious interpretation of kill your darlings is to consider it literally: you, the author, kill off a character who is particularly precious to you. On the other hand, some writers prefer to interpret “kill your darlings” a bit more loosely.
Rather than limiting the murder of darlings simply to beloved characters, a writer must also squelch all fancy turns of phrase and extricate every vanity moment from his or her story. The idea is that while creativity and stylistic exuberance might be great in the rough-draft stage, it’s not enough. For a work to reach its final glory, the writer must obliterate any part that is too fancy, too pretty or too clever for its own good.
Many scholars have been credited with the “kill your darlings” concept, but regardless of who said what and when, it’s all the same message. If you love something in your writing, it must go.
Killing Your Darlings is Not Enough
With all due respect to these brilliant literary minds, but I think their interpretation is shallow and lazy. They start out making a good point, but stop before getting to the emotional core. They say “kill your darlings” as though it’s supposed to be a statement about the writing. They tell us to rip out the over-sparkly words and phrases lest we blind our readers from the rest of the story.
Yet, by interpreting “kill your darlings” in this way, these scholars are actually treating the phrase as though it’s a darling itself. They’re so wrapped up in their own cleverness that they seem to ignore what really matters. “Kill your darlings” is not a statement about writing, or editing, or even the words on the page. It’s a statement about the writer.
According to these scholars, this is nothing more than an intellectual exercise. It’s the heartless, calculated murder of darlings, nothing more. But if we dig into what this advice means to us as writers, it’s not the about the slaughter of innocent words and phrases.
“Kill Your Darlings” is about sacrifice.
“Kill Your Darlings” In the Biblical Sense
If we dig into the history of literature, we’ll find one of the earliest accounts of darling-cide in the Old Testament book of Genesis. It is the story of Abraham and Isaac.
Abraham desperately wants a child but he and his wife, Sarah, cannot conceive. When he and his wife finally have a son, the boy turns out to be a darling in every sense of the word. God decides to test Abraham’s dedication by asking him to kill his son. No matter what Abraham decides to do, he will lose. If he does as God says he loses his son, but if refuses he will be defying God. How is Abraham to choose between the son he loves most in the world and his God?
The answer: he has faith.
“Kill Your Darlings” Is an Act of Faith
The point of the Abraham and Isaac story isn’t the sacrifice itself, but Abraham’s willingness to make that sacrifice. Spoiler alert: Abraham doesn’t actually kill Isaac. God sends an angel to stop him just in time. Abraham has faith that God knows what he’s doing and in the end, things work out for the best.
“Kill your darlings” works much in the same way. The idea isn’t that you actually go through with it but that you scrutinize every chapter, every paragraph, every sentence, and be willing to sacrifice those darlings if that is what’s best for your book.
Many times, we writers are afraid to kill our darlings because deep down we believe these darlings are the best we can do. After all, if we throw out every single darling word then we run the risk of being left with nothing except a blank page.
This is where faith comes in.
We must believe that the best is still in us, that if we sacrifice those darlings, it opens up room on the page for something better. Killing our darlings is an act of faith. Faith in our writing, our process and ourselves. Faith that our best writing is yet to come.