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.
In fact, when I showed my teacher senior year what I’d written, he quite literally told me I needed to start over.
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.
That’s what “killing your darlings” means.
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.