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Transcript for Episode 1.3

The Thoroughly Unauthorized Summary of Writing Excuses Episode 3: Killing Your Darlings

In which we learn that sometimes little darlings need to get the hatchet because they just don’t fit anymore, that keeping them on tap for the right time and place may make it easier to cut them out right now, and that someone else can see which ones need the axe better than we can. Oh, and Howard spits Diet Pepsi on the table when someone suggests that our first book really should be killed.

What do we mean by that phrase (Kill Your Darlings)?

  1. Writing that you’re really attached to and love may have to be removed for the sake of the whole. May be favorite character, scenes, jokes, dialog, lines.
  2. When you’re building a house, you put up one wall first, then build the rest around it. But when you get it all up, you may realize that first wall doesn’t fit, and have to knock it down.

How do you know when it’s time to kill them?

  1. The story has a life of its own that is bigger than that one idea
  2. Through the rewriting process – forces you to reconsider ideas that seemed good once, but now don’t fit
  3. Because other people point out weaknesses

How do you get to the point of being able to kill your darlings? How do you manage to be both attached and detached from your own writing?

  1. Start getting paid for it. A paycheck brings a whole different level of detachment.
  2. Keep a file of your darlings – so you’re not killing so much as saving for the right place and time
  3. Pure number of books — when you have enough properties, taking a hatchet to one isn’t as hard.
  4. Recognize when something is a practical joke or unfair to readers — and treat them right
  5. Give up your pet projects
  6. Your first book should be killed. (Howard spits Diet Pepsi across the table at this point) Maybe after 4 or 5 books, you can go back and rewrite it.

How do you know when something needs to be killed?

  1. Get a second opinion. By definition, you are too close.
  2. For all you writers out there in podcast land: If you’ve written something that you dearly, dearly love, get help.

Final Words

  1. Practice cutting your darlings. Go through, find something that you are really attached to, and try cutting it out.
  2. If you really like something, try it both ways and get readers’ advice
  3. A famous sculptor teacher would have his students line up their pottery projects, then go down the line grading and smashing each piece with a hammer. His explanation was that you are a creator, your master work is ahead. Cut it, you can create something better.
  4. We improve with practice. Write more. Then you can kill this one because you know there’s another one just around the corner. You can practice identifying your problems, and get experience with your usual problems. So write more.

From Writing Excuses at

Practice cutting your darlings. Write more, and don’t worry about cutting this little darling, because you can always make more.

Only three episodes behind.

Current Mood: accomplished
Current Music: Pickin’ Wildflowers, Keith Anderson