A common piece of writing advice attributed to Faulkner, Hemingway, Stephen King, and a bazillion other people says to “murder your darlings,” or in more modern terms, “kill your babies.” (Apparently the quote was first voiced by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.)

The idea is that you have to get rid of the part of your book that you love the most. Some take it to the extreme and say you should pick out your favorite part and delete it on principle.

So…should you automatically delete your best-written paragraph, your most moving dialogue, your prettiest metaphor, just because?

Heck no.

Look guys, writing doesn’t have to be this moody, depressed, torturous thing. You don’t have to excise your best pieces of prose just to show how committed you are to “The Craft.” Keep what needs to stay. Delete what needs to be deleted. If your most beautiful paragraph serves a purpose in the book, leave it alone.

Now, if your favorite paragraph is overly florid, if your favorite dialogue is out of character, or if your favorite metaphor makes no sense, then you need to cut it. No matter how sad it makes you, hit that delete key and trim the fat from your text. If you really feel attached to the piece, you can save it for some other work where it will fit better.

Listen to your editors on this. They can look at your book dispassionately and see the places where your affection for the words has blinded you to the actual quality of the writing. If they tell you to delete something and your initial reaction is outrage, you probably need to take a step back.

You don’t have to murder your darlings for no reason. You just have to be willing to do so, if the book as a whole would be better. It’s okay to love a particular chapter, line, or simile. And it’s okay to let it be if it serves the story.


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