Writers, This Is What The Expression “Kill Your Darlings” Means

One of my college professors said this phrase to me.

“You have to be willing to kill your darlings.”

I didn’t know what that meant until I had written 874 pages of the first draft of my first book.

I spent literally my entire summer studying abroad working on that manuscript.

I was staying in a hostel in Prague for the first 6 weeks, then spent 4 weeks after that in Italy studying creative writing, and all I did was read and write, read and write. Both hostels didn’t have air conditioning, and I didn’t have Internet, so my daily routine was to sit in my boxers, no pants, no shirt, and write about my ridiculous adolescence as a teenager obsessed with World of Warcraft.

Of course, just because I wrote 874 pages didn’t mean it was any good.

I’d thought myself to be rather avant-garde by writing my first draft in the 3rd person — despite the fact that it was a memoir, and my story.

“Nobody writes a memoir in the 3rd person,” he said. “You’re removing the thing that makes memoirs so fun to read, which is getting to hear it from the person themselves.”

I threw that draft away and started over.

…and then after I wrote another 652 pages, I found more problems with it.

  • Too much rambling.
  • Not enough of a linear story.

I threw away that entire draft too.

By the time I actually “finished” my first book, Confessions of a Teenage Gamer, I had re-written the entire thing three times over.

I had deleted entire chapters.

I had removed dozens of characters.

I had made the deliberate decision not to waste the reader’s time with certain stories.

Every single story I ended up not using, every single character I decided not to include, I loved. I spent hours and hours working on those pages, refining the sentences, the jokes, the tension between paragraphs. I still have them saved on my laptop, and are pieces of the narrative I wish I could have included.

But, when I really challenged myself, they took away from the most important parts of the story.

They were tangents. And no matter how entertaining, they diminished the product as a whole.

In order to write the best book I could, I knew I had to “kill my darlings.”

So I did.

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