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.
… 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.
… in writing
Pitches: 2 (2 repitches)
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
Ellen Cushing’s piece for The Atlantic on how ‘Late-Stage Pandemic Is Messing With Your Brain’ was a really great reminder to take it easy
This Nieman Lab piece by Logan Molyneux and Shannon McGregor was thought-provoking: ‘When journalists put tweets in news stories, do they transfer too much power to Twitter?’
Loved Louis Staples’ i_D piece ‘In defence of Keira Knightley’
Ken Klippenstein’s investigation for The Intercept on Amazon was shocking but not surprising: ‘Documents show Amazon is aware drivers pee in bottles and even defecate en route, despite company denial’
Kelsey Barnes has a Taylor Swift column over at Gigwise which I am so insanely jealous of, but it’s great and you should definitely read it
Faima Bakar’s Metro piece on ‘How racism impacts air quality and endangers life’ is a harrowing reminder that inequality is all around us
Imogen West-Knights is perpetually brilliant as Bougie London Literary Woman — whose VICE piece on ‘Her lockdown year’ had me chortling
I hosted a Q&A with digital investigator Jordan Wildon on Tuesday 23 March. Huge thanks to Jordan for giving up his time to chat to The Indiependent team and members of the public about his career to date.
Other upcoming events include:
Indiependent Journey-lism: Writer & Columnist, Rose Stokes - 27 April at 6.30pm - Rose specialises in women’s rights, health and politics and she’s worked with the likes of the BBC, The Guardian, Vice, Refinery29, The Independent and The Telegraph. Join us to learn about all things lifestyle writing.
Indiependent Journey-lism: Freelance Features Writer, Amelia Tait - 5 May at 6.30pm - Amelia Tait is a freelance features writer covering culture, trends, and the internet, with her stories finding homes at publications such as The Guardian, Vice, Wired, The New York Times, and Refinery29, among others. Learn how to develop ideas for features and pitch these to editors.
Indiependent Journey-lism: Senior Commissioning Editor, Victoria Richards - 13 May at 6.30pm - Victoria has 15 years of experience on national newspapers and magazines including the BBC, FT, Independent, Independent on Sunday, The Times, Sunday Times and HuffPost UK. She has also appeared on Newsnight, BBC World, ITV News and Woman's Hour on Radio 4. Join us for an in-depth chat about what editors want from freelancers; how to juggle a journalism career with literary ambitions and Victoria’s work to tackle sexual harassment in the media industry.
Edinburgh: The RSPB needs a communications officer
Sheffield: Tes Global need a content producer
Solihull: Gymshark needs a senior copywriter
West Yorkshire: Major Players is looking for a media executive