save your darlings!

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

Faulkner said it. All writers know it. But can we do it? My academic self struggled more with the cutting than my creative self does. During grad school, it seemed each turn of phrase contained the key to my future: another brilliant conclusion, another bit of evidence to prove my scholarly worthiness, another before-unseen truth my readers might discuss over the elongated table in our English department conference room. I couldn’t quite get over how deliciously clever I was.

During those days, I couldn’t kill anything at all, let alone my darlings. So instead of deleting the extraneous turns of phrase, I cut and pasted them into a file labeled “scraps.” And then I saved them.

For what?

For all time.

Every seminar paper, dissertation chapter, and journal article had a “scraps” file. Each time revisions required I sheer a darling from its roots, I tucked it away for “later.” Over the years, the collection grew—like a pile of broken china dolls stashed in an attic trunk, waiting for the day I’d come to my senses and realize the truth: these babies had a rightful place in the world of necessary all along.

When I first began making scraps files, I actually believed I would find a later use for all those extra words. I promised myself I’d be back to collect them, even labeling paragraphs in bold so I could find content more easily when the need arose.

These days, I don’t feel anywhere near as attached to my writing as I did in academe. But my habit persists. I save most major cuts, despite the fact that in all the years of writing, I have never gone back–have never once opened a scraps file intending to do anything but dump more darlings in.

It turns out, even if you can’t kill your darlings, you can kill your love for them.

And that’s the key.

So if you too have trouble letting go, don’t. Save yourself the internal debate over whether a given string of words should die. Instead of killing those babies, stick them alone in a room with the promise you’ll return. Then leave them there until you can’t remember why they mattered so much.

If you never feel compelled to go back for them, you’ll know you did the right thing.

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