If you’re a writer of any ilk–novice, struggling, accomplished–you’ve heard the advice often enough. John Crowley wrote a history of the concept for this month’s Harper’s. In it, he talks about the advice most of us are given at one point or another: if you really love a sentence, or a paragraph, or a passage, or hell, even a whole chapter–kill it. Delete it. If you love it so much it doesn’t belong in the story. Crowley makes a plea to spare the darlings–because, really, can our own judgement be that bad?
Well, yes and no.
Admittedly I’ve never subscribed to the idea wholeheartedly. My approach is more along the lines of “you have to be willing to kill your darlings in service to the story.” If a sentence or paragraph or passage,or hell, a whole chapter isn’t working for your story, kill it. Delete it. Start over. Even if it’s brilliant. But if that section of your work absolutely, 100%, serves and enhances the story? Keep it. Better yet, make two fucking backups.
Sometimes I think writers are unwilling to let a really great piece of writing go (even if it’s obvious that it needs to) because we’re afraid that we’ll never write something that good again. We read it over and get chills and think, “holy fuck, I wrote that. I made that shit up, and it’s good.” We can’t believe that we did it and deep down we’re afraid that we’ll never do it again. So we keep it.
But you will. Believe it or not, you’ll write stuff that is even more brilliant.
Don’t kill something that’s working. But also don’t be afraid to kill it if it’s not.