Not Much Harder Than Cutting Off A Leg
Agent Rachelle Gardner has an excellent guest post by editor John Upchurch, who talks about “killing your darlings.” Writers know that this term refers to cutting segments from what you’ve written, even though you may think the words are heartbreakingly brilliant (to borrow a phrase from Randy Ingermanson).
Great writers from Anne Lamott to James Scott Bell have advocated the practice of getting a first draft down quickly, then polishing the work in subsequent rewrites. It’s rare to find someone who gets it right the first time, just as there aren’t too many folks who do the New York Times crossword in pen. There’s always room for improvement. But sometimes, in the process of getting that first draft down, the muse creeps into our study and perches on our shoulder, resulting in a paragraph or scene with which we fall in love. Unfortunately, there are many times when those deathless words just don’t fit into the total scheme of the work. Then there are two choices. Totally rewrite everything surrounding that bit or get up your courage and cut it. “Kill your darling.”
When I end up in this situation, I’ve tried to compromise by setting up a desktop folder for the segments I have to remove. I cut them, then paste them into a Word document and save them in that folder for use somewhere else. Once or twice I’ve been able to use one in another novel, on another occasion I found that one of my rejects fitted in very nicely at another spot in the story, but most of the time these darlings languish in obscurity and eventually are deleted.
Has the effort it took to write these discarded words been wasted? Absolutely not. Is it wasted effort for a baseball player to take batting practice? The balls he hits won’t count in official statistics, but the muscle memory and improved hand-eye coordination will certainly show up later. So will the benefits of the practice involved in writing that brilliant bit that ended up on the cutting room floor.