Apparently Faulkner didn’t say it, nor did Wilde or Welty or Chekhov. Instead, it was an obscure Cornish writer named Arthur Quiller-Couch who said that you must kill (in his words, “murder”) your darlings.
(Side note: Quiller-Couch published his novels under the pseudonym “Q.” I wonder if the QAnon people know that their long-lived deep-state hero also spent decades as a novelist and literary critic, centuries after writing a lost source for the Gospels. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you are fortunate.))
“Kill your darlings” is one of the most hackneyed pieces of writing advice out there, but it’s a cliché only because it’s completely true. To edit well, you must kill your darlings. Delete the little turns of phrase, the scenes, the characters, that you adore but which are weighing down your piece.
It’s way harsh.
I don’t follow this advice very well (especially when it comes to this blog, which is nothing if not a refuge for my plentiful bloated darlings).
But Book One, after a few rounds of editing, remains stubbornly overlong. I’m
bound and determined, this month, to cut it down by up to 10%. As I appear completely unable to cut a whole section (I’m not that much of a murderer), this means that every page needs to lose 20-30 words.
This process has not been easy, but it’s been revelatory. Often, the phrase that stands out as needing to go on a given page is one that has been there from the beginning, one that I remember writing because I went, “hey now, that’s clever” back in 2017 or so.
I’ve been working on this project for so long that I almost feel that I’ve outgrown it. Whatever it was in Draft One is completely gone. It reminds me of how apparently 98% of the atoms in our body are replaced every year. We’re completely different, completely changed, yet still ourselves in some way.
Therefore I dedicate this to you, my darlings whom I am cutting. This is your eulogy. You live on in old drafts, multiplied across several redundant backups, and most importantly you live on in my heart. You made the book what it now is, which no longer includes you, but we couldn’t have done it without you, sweeties. Godspeed.