Kill Your Darlings: The Process Of What To Cut Out Doesn’t Always Occur During Editing

Every writer will say writing is one part joy and one part agony. There’s a drive to commit your character’s story to the page, but seeing it all come together is an arduous undertaking, especially when you’re writing a full-length novel and not a short story. Writing my own story has had its ups and downs. Sometimes the words flow out of me and onto the computer screen, or I’ll have days when writing a scene or tone in my head feels a lot harder than it should be. A writer might not always have a clear path ahead for where a story is going until it’s written, but you begin to develop an instinct for knowing what should be cut out or reworked as you’re writing it.

Another common refrain in writers circles is, “Know when to kill your darlings,” which means letting go of the parts you love in your story if it’s not servicing your characters and the bigger picture of your plot in any meaningful way. I always thought that process happens during the editing stage, but I’ve come to realize it can happen even as you’re writing your story.

I’ve got so many older stories, mostly Sailor Moon fanfiction, sitting in a folder that never got an ending. It was far more common as a teenager, and eventually a young college student, to start by writing an idea I had and abandon it after a few months. Learning those lessons from my younger self, I vowed not to make those same mistakes with the original stories I write now. I lost a lot of time trying to perfect what I’ve managed to write down so far that I lose sight of finishing what I started. As I grit my teeth and soldier on with my novel, a new skill has emerged where I’m able to know what my story might need from me when it’s time to go back and edit everything I’ve written.

Writers often look for that “Eureka!” moment when the answers you’re searching for during the writing process comes to you naturally. You can’t actually look for it, per say, but it does find you when you’re not thinking too hard on it. Editing my novel is the furthest thing from my mind right now, because I haven’t finished writing it yet, but a small little voice in my head is already gently nudging me to take note of what I need to cut out or redo when I do get to that next phase in the writing process.

For example, I already know I’m going to need to cut out a character I had written and expand on some of the others. Cutting out characters, no matter how minor, is a tough call. Writers often get attached to all the characters they dream up in their heads and letting go of one is not easy. But when you know a character is taking up extra space that’s just not needed, cutting them loose is the most logical way forward.

I’ve been having plenty of these “Eureka!” moments, and while I may not be ready to implement the changes I already foresee for my story, it’s important to write them down and save them for later. Knowing what to edit this early in the process means part of the work has been done for me, and it’s not a bad place to be at.

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