Kill Your Darlings Is Stupid Advice

And sometimes its not.

You’ve heard the sage old writing advice, Kill Your Darlings. The general idea being that one way to strengthen your writing is  find those elements of the project nearest and dearest to your heart and eliminate them like a surgeon cutting out a diseased tumor.

You’re writing will be stronger for it so the writing gods say.

And you know what? I’m not so sure.

There’s a lot of “same-ness” among published novels these days. As a reader, I crave something original, different, and authentic. But often times, books seem to have similar covers, with similar stories, about similar characters. And I wonder if too many writers are killing too many of their darlings.

Is the goal to have books that are fairly pleasant to the largest audience possible or is the goal to have something that is loved with white hot passion by a smaller crowd?

I was reading an article about the making of the New Anchorman ( Ron Bergundy )movie and the article was talking about how the actors sit around ad-libbing as they tried to come up with just the right completely absurd line for a particular moment in a movie.  The original Anchorman is basically an entire movie of darlings.  Did everybody like the movie? Heck no.  Did a passionate few love it? Damn right. And 9 years later, its one of the more consistently quoted movies of the last thirty years.

I think a prudent guide to the “Kill Your Darlings” advice is the following. Don’t necessarily assume that Killing Your Darlings will improve your project. You may have cut out the very thing that makes your project unique and awesome. Instead, by all means, kill your darlings. Then take an honest look and ask the question; has your project really improved?

If it has, by all means, cut out that tumor. But if your project hasn’t improved? If your project is now just a little more milk toast, a little more like everybody else’s project and a little less you?

Then put your Darlings back in.

And write more darlings. Maybe your project needs way more darlings.

Happy Writing!