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:
“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?