How to NOT kill your writing darlings
Plus a sweet new cat buddy!
Hello and welcome to Academia Made Easier. I am so glad that you are here.
I am currently reviewing the copy edits for my next coauthored book, For the Public Good: Reimagining Arts Graduate Programs in Canadian Universities. As I go through the editor’s queries and changes, one of the things that jumps out at me is how much writing didn’t make it into the final version. The deep dive into the history of government postsecondary funding practices – gone. The many exemplar cases that showed this thing or that – gone. All of my funny-to-me-but-not-to-my-coauthors jokes – gone.
The book is better off without them. But that doesn’t mean cutting them didn’t hurt a bit.
One of the most common pieces of writing advice is to “kill your darlings”. Its attribution is contested, but the general idea is not: in fiction writing, authors must be ruthless editors who eliminate everything that does not serve the story. Fiction writers kill their darlings when they edit out a well-crafted section of prose, a beloved character, or an unnecessary storyline. By killing their darlings, fiction writers provide their stories with more space to shine through. It is great advice.
But I am not a fiction writer. And sometimes the text that needs to go – the darling under consideration– represents a month of research. I put work into that, dammit! I don’t want to kill it! And so over time, I have come up with strategies that make it easier for me to complete the edits necessary for my writing – without actually killing any of these darlings at all.
And that’s what today’s small thing to try immediately is all about.
One Small Thing to Try Immediately: Repurpose your writing darlings
One of the many things that make editing hard is admitting to oneself that some of our writing (be it a paragraph, a section, or a full chapter) just doesn’t fit the larger writing product – even if the work is excellent. It is challenging to make these kinds of edits (‘darling edits’?) because they matter to us personally – either because we find them fascinating and/or because they are the product of a great deal of labour. At the same time, the point of our writing is the larger work and not that specific paragraph, section, or chapter. The solution, then, is to give that paragraph, section, or full chapter a new chance at life. Try the following.
Move it to a footnote. It is relevant - so relevant that it needs to be in the work - but not perfectly tied to the argument at hand. No problem: that is what footnotes are for. Interesting asides, contextual information, and Review 2 appeasement all belong in footnotes, so move the somewhat tangental there.
Now read it through. Does it work in the footnote? Does it make sense to keep it there? Or — I am so sorry to ask — is it still out of place and distracting? Crap. Not to worry; just move to the next idea.
Move it to a new document. The reality has set in: this paragraph, section, or full chapter does not belong in your current writing project. It just doesn’t fit. But you spent time on it, dammit, and it is still insightful. Plus you learned a whole subliterature (well, got somewhat acquainted with part of a subliterature …) and that can’t just be deleted!
The solution is simple: create a new document and save all edit darlings in that file. Will you ever use that wonderful section, that insightful paragraph, that finely honed turn of phrase that still makes you smile? Of course you will. Or not. Who knows? It might sit as an untouched document for the lifespan of your computer. It might be the seed of a future article or book chapter. Time will tell.
Accept the truth of the writing process. Regardless of whether your edit darlings turn into footnotes, future papers, or forgotten bits of text, these darlings have already served an important purpose. Writing isn’t just about the end results, the words that are written, the final product. Writing is also about the process, the thinking and learning that you do to get to that final product. By writing those darling words and sections and chapters, even if they don’t make it into the final version, you worked your way toward that final product. So those writing darlings were useful to you, even if they never see the light of day.
So thank you, history of government postsecondary funding practices, many exemplar cases that showed this thing or that, and funny-to-me-but-not-to-my-coauthors jokes. Rest well in that separate document. I am sure I will get back to you at some point.
Until next time…
If you are looking for more academic-specific writing resources, be sure to check out Dr. Katy Peplin’s free AcWriMo resources. You can also check out the following Academia Made Easier newsletters from days gone by:
Stay well, my colleagues.
P.S. I made a new cat buddy, my friends Heather and Michael’s cat, Sugar. She crawled onto my lap and sat contentedly for over an hour. She is officially the sweetest (and thus well-named). Don’t let the camera angle fool you: she is pretty tiny, at least compared to my two food-motivated felines!
If you find Academia Made Easier useful, consider supporting my chocolate habit through my Buy me a coffee page. This site allows readers to show their appreciation for the unpaid labour of writers like me, as well as artists and other creatives. 🍫🧁🙏
Lately I am wearing SophieGrace clothes almost daily. They are made in Canada, classically styled, and perfect for academic work environments. I love their comfortable machine-washable bamboo fabrics and the modular designs that allow for easy mixing and matching. ♥️🥰 If you want to check them out, be sure to use my discount code AcademiaMadeEasier to get 15% off.
If you are looking for a great paper planner, I really like the Roterunner Purpose Planner. I recently finished with my first one (which was red) and have begun my second (which is blue). Be sure to use my discount code LOLEENBERDAHL to get 15% off.