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
Have 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!)