Happy New Year, writers! If you’re like me, you’re determined to make 2018 your best year yet! You’ve made a list of resolutions, cleaned out your closet, and stocked your kitchen with only the best food from God’s green earth.
The most exciting part of 2018, I bet, are you writing goals. Signal the fireworks!
Okay, stop the fireworks for just a second. Do your writing goals include taking a good, hard look at your manuscript and excising material that shouldn’t be there?
Like Faulkner, Ginsberg, Wilde, Chekov, and many others, Stephen King advises,
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
It’s part of being a writer. And it makes sense. For the greater good of the manuscript, we need to let parts of it go. We need to reach a point where we can say with confidence,
This scene doesn’t fit the narrative anymore … This paragraph is just waxing eloquent and slowing down the pace … This character is a distraction and serves no real purpose …
And the list goes on. So many darlings and it’s time for them to meet their end.
But it sounds brutal, doesn’t it? Not to mention the fact that some of those darlings might just be excellent material for something else. Just like those old T-shirts you refuse to throw out because “they’re perfect for a DIY throw-rug,” these files could contain fodder for your next masterpiece.
There is another option. Don’t kill darlings left and right. Instead, escort them to another file, where they can hang out indefinitely, far away from the chopping block.
I can tell you from experience, running a Darling Escort Service is a lot less brutal than becoming the Executioner that every manuscript fears. Not to mention, it keeps the ol’ Idea Factory running even when Writers Block threatens to flip the switch.
Executioners … Darling Escort Service … Idea Factory … Writers Block …
Sorry, y’all. The metaphors are officially out of control. Let’s get real and discuss how to get the most mileage out of your writing:
Learn to love CTRL+X and CTRL+V.
Come across a darling you need to cut from your manuscript? Great job spotting it and using your wherewithal to do something about it. Very simply, all you have to do is pull up a blank file, label it something like “Idea Repository for [TITLE OF NOVEL].” Then, toggle back over to your manuscript, highlight the darling, hit CTRL+X. Toggle over to your repository and hit CTRL+V.
Escort as many darlings from your manuscript to the repository as are necessary. You can even create multiple repositories, organized by theme or topic. Then, leave the file alone for a very long time, at least until you finish your current project.
Escort the darlings out of the repository
After some time has passed, go back to your repository and read every passage. What do you feel drawn to? Copy and past that stuff into a separate file. What are you unsure about? Leave it in your repository.
Toggle over to the “drawn to” file and scour it for new ideas:
- What are the themes you were working on in your original manuscript?
- How does reading them in a separate file highlight new themes?
- Which themes can you explore in a new story-line?
- How can you recast the characters and insert them in new scenes?
- How might you experiment with a new writing style?
- Which passages will work best in a short story, blog post, poem, what-have-you? And which can you develop into a full-on novel?
Did you write detailed answers to these questions? Okay, you know what to do. See those ideas through.
Now, toggle back to the repository where you left passages you are unsure about. Want to give them one more pass? Or … have you given these passages enough chances to impress you?
If you hate clutter like I do, it might be time to introduce these darlings to your DELETE button.
How do you handle discarded material? Share your ideas with us!