Don’t kill your darlings; shelve them (#IWSG Blog Hop)

Don't kill your darlings; shelve them

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn as a new writer was how to be okay with killing my darlings. What I determined was that while some of my darlings warranted murder-by-delete-key, others deserved a less permanent fate. I developed a two-step process to be able to refer back to all the darlings I’ve killed along the way, should I need them, and, wow, you wouldn’t believe how much better I came to feel about the editing process.

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it – whole-heartedly – and delete it before sending your manuscripts to press. Murder your darlings” -Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, On The Art of Writing, 1916

STEP ONE: I opened a new Microsoft Word document, labeled it “MANUSCRIPT_NAME unused passages”, and pasted said passages into the document. The theory behind this is that these scrapped scenes/passages might not fit my current story, but they could find an incarnation in a sequel or unrelated future project. Feel free to add whatever subheadings you need into this document for organizational purposes. Some suggestions: unused scenes, passages, metaphors, or maybe those brilliant character traits you came up with but which just aren’t working at present.

“In writing, you must kill your darlings.” -William Faulkner, year of quote unknown

STEP TWO: I also save a new version of my manuscript everyday. The easiest way to accomplish this is to create a folder for older versions. To the title of my manuscript, I add a few words that will help me remember what major edits I did that day. For example, “MANUSRIPT_NAME RobberySceneOverhaul” or “MANUSCRIPT_NAME Scenes1and2swapped.”

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” -Stephen King, On Writing, 1999

Don't kill your darlings; shelve themHave I ever gone back to the time-capsule files from steps one and two and used material from them? I have. You could just just do one of the above steps, but I prefer both safety nets. The step-one file of unused passages is easier to search through, because there’s less content than a whole manuscript, whereas step two involves searching through past versions of manuscripts until you find the day you need. But, because I don’t always accurately gauge what should go into the step-one file, I sometimes delete passages that would be lost forever if I wasn’t saving a version of my manuscript daily. There have been times where I’ve had to scour files from steps one and two until I’ve found what I needed.

“… I have tried to write by the old rule that how good a book is should be judged by the man who writes it by the excellence of the material that he eliminates.” -Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast. This appeared in the restored 2010 edition. I’m not sure if it appeared in the original, 1964 edition.

Do you have a safety measure in place to help you find the darlings you’ve cut from a story? Do you think you’ll start saving the darlings you’re killing using one or both of the methods described above? Do you have a different method for saving your cut darlings for future potential use? Chat with me in the comments.

“Shelve your darlings.” -Raimey Gallant, random blog post, 2018

I wrote this post for the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. To continue hopping or to join the hop, click here. (There are more than 200 of us, and it’s fun!)

65 thoughts on “Don’t kill your darlings; shelve them (#IWSG Blog Hop)

  1. Every time I start a new round of edits or revisions, I create a new draft. I just trust my old version to have those ‘darlings’, which I’ve brought back, in new and revised formats.

    I usually know where in my story to look, though. I think organizing my snippets might drive me crazy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We are a lot alike, Raimey. I save my WIP daily with the date and keep all of them. Besides your great reasons, I can also prove that the work is mine because I have these old files. No one can steal my work!

    Love your phrase–murder-by-delete-key

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I save a new file every time I start editing a chapter, just in case I one day need something I previously deleted. I’m currently on version 4 of chapter 1. I haven’t looked back at the old versions yet, but it’s nice to know the option’s there 🙂

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  4. I really like your idea of saving unused passages. I sometimes stick ideas, passages, descriptions, etc. at the end of my current manuscript, just in case I decided to bring them back. But I’m not as organized as you. Good post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fantastic post today Rainey. I love the idea of a journal of sorts to keep track of edits. I need that in my life * big starry eyed grin *. What I do do when I cut scenes or write new ones is use scrivener. I simply keep a chapter log with scenes inside of it and date or titled old and new scenes. It’s much sloppier though. I love you suggestions so much 🙂

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  6. Excellent post! And honestly, is there anything harder than removing something you love, that may be among the best writing you’ve ever created, because it really doesn’t fit in the current WIP? The answer is no, at least for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Cutting, that is by far the most terrifying part of the editing process for me. I’m a slow writer. I take time and agonize over the words, even in first draft, cutting them, well that can send me into a tail spin. 😦 I do keep the deleted passages if it’s large chunks of writing. Some have found their way back into the story others I’m saving for some yet to be determined reason.

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  8. For me it depends. Some of them I out and out delete. If my heart is torn, I toss the scene into my “extra scenes” folder in my Scrivener file. Then I never have to look too far if I want it 🙂

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  9. I hate getting rid of anything that doesn’t fit a story. When I finally convince myself that a passage or scene needs to go, I simply move it to the back of that chapter’s file and leave it there so that I never lose it. I should probably create a file where I put all those deleted scenes, but that would requires organization, which isn’t my strong point. Just ask any of my elementary school teachers!

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  10. I have several files of “cut” material for my memoir, too, Raimey. And I also save a few different drafts of the memoir, or maybe they are versions of the memoir. I’m always afraid I will permanently delete something I’ll want to use elsewhere–even if it is just the language. Thanks for sharing this great advice with your followers. All best to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I had this prologue of two little old ladies whispering gossip during mass. I didn’t work. Just ask my writer’s group, on-line critique, the mailman, you name it. But they were fun and it made me laugh so I placed them in a special file to use later.

    They may serve nothing more than a little short story I’ll try to enter or I may use them in something else. Regardless what I do I did not bury them in the woods. They are still alive and kicking.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I agree with you on that. If I do kill them from the current MS, I bury them in a “Deleted Scenes” file. There are so many times when I had to reference back to them or maybe even birth a new story from it.

    Great advice!


    Liked by 1 person

  13. I recently went through my Google Docs files and flash drive files and deleted a lot of unfinished works. I really don’t have any regrets because I felt I needed a fresh start.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. it took me at least one year and weeks of work lost to learn this! I also lost my flash drive with all my work (thank god password protected most of it) a couple of months ago. Most of it was backed up somewhere else but not all of it! (sobs) This is all great advice Raimey!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. This is so important. Sometimes a character, moment, or place are so very awesome that we NEED to use them; we just have to be honest with ourselves if we’ve put them into the right story. Great post! xxxxx


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