To Be A Writer, You Have To Be Prepared To Kill…

Have you got what it takes?

Anyone who has ever thought seriously about writing for a living has probably heard the expression credited to the American author and Nobel Prize laureate, William Faulkner: “In writing you must kill all your darlings.” But what does it mean?

As I wrote in this article for The Writing Cooperative in 2019, the phrase means making ruthless cuts to your work. I spent my week of annual leave editing my novel, which I wrote last year during lockdown. It was ~80,000 words at the start of the process, but so far I’ve cut 10,000 words and I’m not yet done. To begin with, I was cutting and pasting excerpts into a separate document, thinking I might regret making the excisions. But as the process went on, I became bolder and bolder. I started brutally hacking my darling manuscript to shreds. Minute word changes became whole conversations that I hit backspace on, and I even deleted my first chapter altogether because it didn’t place the reader in the heart of the action.

Despite having read a million guides on ‘how to get published’ that all stressed the importance of a rigorous edit process, I was guilty of rushing to get feedback from my work from literary agents. I’ve been querying a novel that is still in the draft stage. Although I’ve had some positive feedback so far (one agency said it was engaging, original, and well-written), I know in my heart of hearts it can be better still.

I have an English degree from Oxford University, an NCTJ journalism qualification and I’ve been working as an editor since the age of 17. I guess I’d somehow convinced myself that my work would need less editing than other peoples’ does. But that’s simply not the case. Everybody’s work benefits from the edit process-including mine.

When you write something that means a lot to you, it can be very easy to get excited and want to share it with the world as soon as possible. But unless it’s a super time-sensitive news piece, your work will almost certainly benefit from staying in draft mode for a little longer.

A few weeks ago, in this newsletter I talked about how you can impress editors. I shared my advice for how you can ensure the first draft you submit is as polished as possible. Embarrassingly, when it came to my novel, I hadn’t followed my own advice. And I think that comes back to the fact that it’s hard to kill your darlings. My novel is about two things that mean a lot to me-music and journalism-and so I let my passion for the story (as in the ‘what-it’s-all-about’) get the better of me so that I blindly overlooked the narrative problems (which last week I realised included dialogue and pacing problems).

If you’re currently close to finishing a longer article or piece of fiction, let it rest. Don’t do what I did and fire it off without doing your due diligence and self-editing first. Kill those darlings.

My week

… in editing

There have been some really great interviews published on The Indiependent lately; I particularly enjoyed Rory Sanger’s chat with Lee Underwood, author of Blue Melody: Tim Buckley Remembered. I also edited James Riding’s interview with Ryan Hyslop from Trash Boat.

I also edited a bunch of track reviews — including this one on ‘Kathleen’ by Foxes; this review of Squid’s ‘Paddling’ and this piece on More In Luv’s ‘Someone Else’.

… in writing

Pitches: 2 (2 repitches)

Commissions: 0

I’m in that annoying phase of knowing a pitch is genius but not having any luck-I’ll keep chipping away until I place it.

Articles written: 0

Articles published: 0

This week was predominantly spent catching up on emails and coordinating the next print edition of The Indiependent magazine, so I’ve not had a huge amount of time to pitch or write my own ideas.

But in fun personal news, I got word that one of my short stories is being published in an anthology, so that’s super exciting stuff!

… in listening/watching

I’ve been working my way through Rolling Stones’ list of ‘ The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time ‘… I made the mistake of tweeting about how much hip-hop there is and every man in the world decided to hit reply and tell me their thoughts on the genre. Fun times.

… in reading

Originally published at

The Indiependent Founder, NCTJ qualified journalist, Oxford University grad. Interested in tech, political communication & data ethics. Tweets: @BettyKirkers

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