Warning: As a Writer, You Will Have to Butcher Your Pets

Whenever I write, I think about the William Faulkner quote, “In writing, you must kill your darlings,” and today I decided that “kill your darlings” is too weak and too 20th century. It’s time to bring the concept into modern times. It’s time not just to murder our beloveds but to butcher our pets.

If you haven’t learned to kill your darlings yet, you should learn now. (Side note that Faulkner wasn’t necessarily the first to say “kill your darlings,” although he has handily become the most famous.) There are already countless blog postings on the subject, but if you don’t want to Google it, let me explain:

Killing your darlings is all about taking an unbiased look at your prose and deciding which parts are not helping achieve your overall objective. Often enough, your most cherished prose is also the weakest link, and so you must delete it. This is an invaluable lesson for copywriters and creative writers alike.

When you get to the point where you write eight hours a day, five days a week as I do, you start “killing your darlings” before they even hit the page. As point of fact, I’ve already killed about 20 darlings on this blog post, and I’m only on the fourth paragraph! Nonetheless, the ability to know a weak sentence before you write it does not preclude you from the gut-wrenching experience of having to massacre entire civilizations (i.e., crumple up what you thought was a final draft and start over). However, the good news is that it does get easier to commit these heinous acts of writing injustice once you realize that it’s a natural part of the revision process.

But today’s writers have undo, redo, “Save as a Draft” and “Are you sure you want to overwrite this file?” We also have the internet where our articles can be edited after they’re published, and (lest you are under some type of disillusion) even “sent” emails can be edited to a limited extent.

With the way writing has changed, writers can easily fall prey to a “we’ll change it later” attitude, which is why you need to think of it not as killing your darlings but as butchering your pets. To be your own editor, you need to be tough and unforgiving, especially on your cleverest content. So go ahead, go Freddie Kruger on your golden retriever. Just don’t do it literally.


Have you had to butcher a beloved pet? Share your favorite lines or phrases that you had to delete for the sake of the greater good.


~ by SFcopywriter on September 8, 2011.

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