Warning: Hacks for Hacks tips may have harmful side effects on your writing career, and should not be used by minors, adults, writers, poets, scribes, scriveners, journalists, or anybody.
Every critique session since the 1930s has included someone saying the phrase, “Kill Your Darlings,” and it must continue ever after, like those chain letters you got back in middle school. It’s not enough to kill your darlings in your writing, though. You’ve got to slay those darlings 24/7, whether it’s on your keyboard or at your writers group meeting or at your friends’ birthday party. You’ve got to flense every ounce of fat from your life if you want to make a career of your writing. I’m going to show you how. You’re going to hate this. That’s fine, it’s no picnic for me either. We’ll both be stronger for this.
- We’ll start with your manuscript. Start reading from the beginning of the most recent project you’re working on until you come to a spot where the writing really jumps out at you. What caught your attention? An especially good turn of phrase? Some insightful characterization? Did you feel proud of yourself for writing it? Does it spark joy? Welp, that’s a darling, and it must be removed from your manuscript. You may be tempted to say that I’m deliberately misunderstanding the meaning of “Kill your darlings” just to be a contrarian jerk. Buddy, the spirit of the law was the first darling I killed.
- One of your beta readers just raved about your work. They loved it. Loved it! They can’t wait until it gets published so they can spread the word. Rave reviews from respected peers is a feeling that sets a writer’s soul on fire. A little TOO on fire, if you ask me. This sort of thing has all the marks of a darling. Scrub those kind words from your memory, and that passage from your manuscript. And maybe give your beta reader a tongue-lashing just to be on the safe side, because how dare they?! You’re trying to trim the fat from your prose, you don’t need these warm, squishy feels.
Someone in your writing group getting a little too big for their britches? Maybe after you give them some primo feedback, they smile and say, “Thanks, that’s really helpful!” What, they couldn’t bother to say your advice “was really, really, REALLY helpful”?! Would it have killed that pompous jerk to say, “I have so much to learn from you!”? Sounds to me like this upstart is a darling that needs killing.
- Don’t forget to kill your biggest darlings of all—your friends and family. Obviously, I don’t mean KILL them, just excise them from your calendar, if not your life. Time spent engaging in hobbies and having fulfilling personal relationships are precious hours that you could instead spend excising all remaining verve and joy from the eighth draft of your novel. If there’s one thing I know about writing, it’s that if you’re not suffering, you’re not trying hard enough. Think of how much you can accomplish if you just give up everything that makes life worth living.
Now, get back to work, darling.
Are you ruthless in your quest to kill your darlings in your writing? Share your sociopathic secrets in the comments!