WriteSpa #28 – Murder Your Darlings

WriteSpa – An Oasis for Writing

Writing requires skill, as does painting, or playing an instrument. You practice and practice, and eventually phrases, sentences, words, paragraphs, and eventually chapters and books take on a life of their own, because you don’t have to figure out how to finger a chord or shade a cloud; you KNOW it. Skill in any artistic form leaves the artist free. That’s the point of learning a skill – it’s to free the artist inside you to be able to create.

That’s why I love teaching so much. My goal is to guide students towards freedom in their writing. If I handed you a guitar and said, “play it – you’re so talented musically” and you never practiced scales, chords, music, learning songs, you would always be frustrated. Unfree. If you learn how to play it, though, you become confident and free to improvise, to enjoy, and eventually create great music. Skill doesn’t just ‘happen’ all by itself.

I’m continually floored when I’m asked to read work written by either teens or grown-ups, and I point out an egregious grammatical error or confused thinking, and their response is: “But I LIKE it that way.”

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was George Bernard Shaw’s famous “Murder your darlings.” If there’s a part of your piece that you are particularly attached to – so attached that a teacher or editor advising you to cut it out brings tears of rage to your eyes – then chances are you should cut it out. The more enraged you feel, the more likely it should be gotten rid of. And it’s not necessarily because it’s a lousy sentence or scene; sometimes it’s because it doesn’t fit where you’ve placed it.

Save it.  I have a fat folder I call “Darlings.” Ruthlessly, I bury them alive – and maybe I’ll let them out some day.


Fun Writing Practice

Have someone read something you wrote that you ‘love.’ It should be someone fairly objective: a teacher or editor. Someone who knows correct grammar, clarity in writing, logic – as well as what you’re trying to accomplish. Every writer needs a mentor, a teacher, an editor – someone to help them continue to hone their skills. A writing critique group, for instance, is one of the best (and free.)

Try to be open to what your critiquer says. Don’t bristle; close your eyes and LISTEN. Then let the response you got rest quietly for a few days before reading your piece again, with just a bit more detachment and clarity.

Learn to be your own editor. Murder your darlings.


Daily Happinesses

  • tulips from Holland
  • getting angry
  • warm water on your face
  • sitting on the dune with the seagulls, watching the sun set
  • Earl Grey tea

1 thought on “WriteSpa #28 – Murder Your Darlings

  • Oh dear , so hard
    Do we have to kill our sweethearts too? ;0)

    Loved Heaven Falls BTW, the little stories and facts about the essential oils were fab too, although I was so involved in the story that at times I didn’t read them till I’d finished the whole book.

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