The joy of killing your darlings

Good writing is murder, isn't it? You toil over the perfect sentence only for a colleague to read it and complain that they don't get it. They say it's unclear, convoluted, sounds too this or not enough that. Choose your criticism, the end result is the same: your pride is wounded and your brilliance as a writer beaten back into submission.

This, my friends, is a clear sign that you must kill your darlings.

The toughest piece of writing advice

I'm not suggesting you take out your frustration on your colleagues or any other hapless reader.

The advice for writers to 'kill your darlings' has been attributed to many authors over the years, from Stephen King to William Faulkner.

What exactly is a darling?

A darling is something that looks lovely, gives you a sense of irrational fondness for it, and makes you feel good when writing it, but which doesn't serve the piece or your reader. It could be:

  • Flowery language

  • Long, windy-winding sentences that trail on and on, and traipse all around the mulberry bush, past the school and the village green, all without saying very much at all...

  • Superfluous detail

  • Tangents that bear no relevance and don't advance the writing at all

  • Puffery, jargon, or smart-arsey commentary

Why must the darlings die?

As someone who loves a tangent, I've wept that question into my keyboard many a time. But ooops, there I go with my darlings.

Darlings are a distraction. They're about you, not your reader. And if you're writing anything, that's not particularly helpful. It's especially unhelpful when you're writing copy.

The whole point of copywriting is to move your reader in a pre-determined direction. Anything that impedes the mission needs to be jettisoned ASAP.

Tips for identifying your darlings

When tightening your copy, use the below to help you discern what's a darling and what's not.

  • So what? Read your suspected darling then ask the question, 'So what?' If you can't come up with a decent answer, you've likely got a darling on your hands.

  • What use does this provide to the reader? Depending on what you're working on, you might need to phrase the question differently: ‘Does this help the reader?’ or ‘Will the reader know what to do next?’ for example. Again, if your answer is not watertight, your darling probably needs culling, or rewriting at least.

  • What do you feel when you read it? If a sense of pride is creeping in, ask yourself if it's because a) you've written a helpful, concise, piece; or, b) because it just sounds so darned lovely. It's option B? You know what to do...

To (let) be or not to be, that is the question

Whether you decide to kill each and every one of your darlings, or let the odd one persist, is entirely up to you. If you're compromising on clarity, directness or relevance, they need to go. If they're adding a little humour or personality, keeping them would probably not be the end of the world.

There we have it! A guide to killing your darlings. May it serve you well and don't forget, the pen is mightier than the sword.

Your words matter,

Laura

P.S. No darlings were harmed in the making of this post.


The Weekly Writing Reflection

Welcome!

Each week I share an inspirational quote and a writing prompt. The idea is for you to spend a moment doing some active reflection through writing.

Here’s your quote for this week:

Darling, the legs aren't so beautiful, I just know what to do with them.

- Marlene Dietrich

It ain’t the words (or the darlings!) you got, it’s what you do with them that counts.

Something a little different for your writing prompt, this week. Have fun with it – how out there can you go?!  

  • Darling, the _____ ain’t so _____, I just know _____.

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*** LAST CHANCE TO BOOK ***

Wordy Workshop  

If you haven’t booked for the upcoming tagline workshop I’m running with brand expert Egle Vilutyte, be quick! We start on Tuesday at 11am.

You’ll learn how to write a tagline that captures the essence of your brand and helps to build it. Write your own Just do it, Because you’re worth it, or I’m lovin’ it. Think you’re not wordy enough? We’ve made it super easy so anyone can create a valuable brand asset, even with no writing experience.

Hope to see you there! Details and booking below…

  • The workshop is in two parts. Part 1 is on Tuesday 2nd February at 11am. The follow-up session, where you can benefit from the support and encouragement of likeminded people, is onWednesday 10th February at 2pm.

  • Tickets are £45 and if you’re on this list, you can receive a 15% discount with the code LAURA15.

  • Details and booking are here.

Sign me up! Book workshop

If you have any questions at all, please give me a shout. I’ll hope to see you there!

Thank you so much for reading. Until next time…


P.S. If you can’t make the workshop, but you know someone who might be interested, feel free to share this email with them. Thank you!

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