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I don’t want to kill my darlings. Quite frankly, I’m kind of tired of modern authors taking advice from Edwardian literary martyrs who apparently sacrificed their own time by doling out bits of wisdom to the less talented plebes and neophytes of the writing community of these past three centuries. The Edwardian martyr to whom I refer herein is Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch the progenitor of the phrase “Kill Your Darlings”, which was originally “Murder your Darlings”, something he was adamant about.
Now, I have a theory on why Sir Couch was such a vehement proponent of deleting one’s best work before publication. I think it was competition. Those Edwardian authors were notorious for hating each other’s guts and I believe he was trying to stack the deck in his favor. Every writer has a certain signature in their work even if they cross genres. The reason we read a specific writer’s work and become fans is because of their style and I relish that. I like that I can pick up any piece of work under the Samuel Clemens name and know it’s really Twain. I’ll bet a donut that if we were afforded the opportunity to read Salinger’s previously unpublished work without even knowing it existed – that we would know it was his unequivocally.
There are lots of habits I would love to lose – like my horrific habit of using the word “just” all over the place. (Fortunately, I edit the shit out of those after the fact – but still.) Or, my dreadful grammar, which at times, embarrasses me beyond belief. But, as for some of my inherent style sheets – hell no. I write because I love to write, firstly for me and secondly for the reader. And, I don’t want my favorite writers to stop being themselves either. It’s disingenuous and fucking boring as well. Who wants to read the same style, form, cadence, etc? And, who wants to write that way? Not me, my friends.
I’ve definitely been a victim of Sir Couch’s. I’ve killed, I’ll bet, thousands of darlings over the years and I’ll never get them back. A few years ago I wrote a paragraph so disturbingly raw that while I was writing the placement of the words didn’t register in my mind – it was just born from some passion for this particular story. When I read it, I got chills. Something told me I had to cut it – that it was just way, way too much and too over the top. I would never be able to look at my mom, hell – my whole family, again after they read it. I passed it to my trusty group of pre-screeners and all except one loved it. All it took was that one voice of dissent to justify my own thoughts. I killed the piece and have regretted it ever since. To date, that was probably my best paragraph.
I’m not doing that anymore and urge all fledgling writers such as myself to eschew this nasty phrase and write to your hearts content. To Sir Couch, wherever your bones may be rotting and restless with the worry of the genesis of better writers than yourself – I say this to you, Sir (in the voice of Sir John Gielgud from Arthur) go screw yourself!