Awesome, awesome writing advice

16 Aug

The best piece of writing advice I ever got was from my high school journalism teacher. It went, simply, “Kill your darlings.”

The idea is that, as a writer, we come up with these lines or paragraphs or stories that, for one reason or another, we love. We find them brilliant or witty. We think they showcase our writing ability in a wonderful and perfect and ideal way.

And yet, they are a detriment to the story. They add nothing. They’re superfluous, and wordy and the piece, as a whole, benefits from its quick elimination. They are masturbatory prose.

But, but … it’s your darling.

Kill it. Kill it hard, kill it fast, kill it good.

Being this kind of self editor is hard, but it makes us much better writers.

I found this bit of writing advice on Buzz Feed that gave me heart palpitations. Gems include:

Twain

“Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” ~ Mark Twain

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” ~ Saul Bellow (Why is this true??? My guess is that we’re not awake enough to second-guess our gut.)

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.” ~ T.S. Eliot

“Cut out all those exclamation marks. An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own joke.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald (Yes.)

But the one that made me bounce in my seat, that made me say “yay yay yay yay yaaay”?

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

My favorite writer giving my favorite writing advice. My shit day has become beautiful.

What bit of writing advice did you learn once that you think of and follow regularly?

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5 Responses to “Awesome, awesome writing advice”

  1. Jessica Ebersole August 16, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

    Great ideas. Thank you!!

  2. magnawriting August 16, 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” ~ Mark Twain <— Awesome.

    An editor once told me to "write with authority." If I know it to be true and I can back it up, I should say it, not softly dance around it. It makes your writing more active and more interesting.

  3. Ally August 16, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    I recently read similar advice in The Memoir Project by Marion Roach Smith. She included several of those quotes, too. Sometimes you just need to see that advice in black and white and then it all makes sense. 🙂

  4. Stephanie August 16, 2012 at 6:45 pm #

    Oh I love this!

  5. silver account September 2, 2012 at 4:40 am #

    There are plenty of books on writing out there, mostly by writers you have never heard of and probably never will. Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is an exception. I had read many rave reviews about this book, so I went and got myself the audio book version for the long train rides on my latest European vacation (but ended up listening to it everywhere I went and finished it in the first couple of days).

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