A term coined by Arthur Quiller-Couch in a series of lectures (On the Art of Writing) he gave in 1916. The full quote is above.
‘Murdering your darlings’ refers to deleting every word that isn’t pertinent to the story, even those words or phrases that you’ve grown to love. It’s not at all easy to do, but I do believe it’s all about non-attachment and losing your ego!
I used to read and reread little phrases I’d included in stories, thinking how wonderful they were, but I look back at them now and cringe as they are real examples of ‘purple prose,’ aka navel-gazing rubbish! If I’ve learned anything over the past few years, it’s to pare down the message to what really needs to be said. The purpose of writing a story is not to show the world how great your lexicon is, it’s to tell a story that people relate to and by using pompous vocabulary and taking twenty words to say something that can be said in five, the message is diluted and a chance for meaningful communication lost.
Editing for me goes hand in hand with procrastination. It’s always something I struggle to find time to do, and struggle to do when I have the time! When it comes to short stories, I never know when to stop – they’re never quite good enough; there’s always a little more ‘fine tuning’ I can do. Short stories are one thing; novels are another. In November I managed to win ‘NaNoWriMo,’ and wrote 50,000 words in 30 days. Many of them were rubbish words though! I didn’t write chronologically either, so my novel ended up consisting of a mishmash of scenes with huge gaping holes in them. I was, however, so relieved to have produced 50,000 words, that the quality of them didn’t seem so important at the time. I figured I’d leave the story for a while and come back to it later.
‘Later’ has become now. I still have a lot of content to add but I also need to do a massive amount of editing, and that is the tough part. I’ve got into the habit of writing a short piece then moving onto another immediately so I’ve now got a whole bunch of stories (in addition to my novel) that I need to go back to.
One thing I’ve come to realise is that completion is such an important part of the writing process, as important as getting the words down, but at the same time it’s necessary to know when the story is good enough to submit. I’ve got a few weeks off from work soon and I’m determined to edit all my ‘not-quite-ready’ stories as well as complete and sort out my novel. Hopefully Scrivener will help me with that!