Murder Your Darlings: Dangerous Creativity Meets Rosemary’s Baby

by ToriDeaux on June 12, 2007

I’ve forgotten where I first ran across the  brilliant, dangerous advice to “Murder Your Darlings, “ but I’m in good company, it seems.  A quick web-search shows that it’s been attributed to Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Twain, Wilde, and about a quadzillion other word-smith serial-killers.

The most likely source is Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who, in 1914 or so, quipped:

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate
a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it
— whole-heartedly —  and delete it before sending
your manuscript to press.  Murder your darlings.”

Your “darlings” are those brilliant strokes of your writer-ly wit. They’re the most astoundingly beautiful interplay of paint that ever appeared on your canvas, the best and brightest ideas that you as a Creative have ever had. Darlings are our indigo-children, the fruit of our labors, the idiot-savants we nurture and coddle and pet-pet-pet, the ones we keep under our pillow so we can admire their shine, even in the dark of night.

It’s an exhilarating moment, when we fall in love with our own creations.

432054_wrote_1916But it’s equally exhilarating to take the knife to their throats, spilling their blood onto the page and canvas – in love, worship and adoration.

It takes some getting used to, at first, all this blood-letting of beloveds –  It takes time, practice, and a lot of rationalization to be comfortable with it.

If you’re the possessive type, try thinking of it as keeping your precious babies all to yourself, refusing to allow anyone else to share in their love.

If you’re the nurturing type, considered it a kindness,  protecting them from the prying, critical eyes of the outside world.

Being the dramatic spiritualist that I am, I approach it as a dramatic sacrifice, spilling the blood of my precious for the good of all.

Why do I kill my darlings?

And more to the point, why should you?

Because they get in the way.

Left to their own devices, darlings will suck away your creative flow. Who hasn’t wasted hours admiring that perfect phrase, that brilliant blot of paint, while struggling to match it to *anything* else of importance?

Darlings grow into creative blocks, a Hoover dam of perfectionism that refuses to budge. They force you to go around them, to build a framework to support them, a framework that will never do them justice.

They’ll keep you from editing properly; you’ll catch yourself trimming and polishing in order to show off your darlings rather than to advance the story or article. You’ll never notice if the darlings themselves are in the way of the story (which they usually are).

Most importantly, ”darlings” draw attention to the writing, and steal it from whatever point you’re trying to get across.  It’s tough for me to say this, but… the last thing a writer really needs to hear is “you write well”.

REALLY good writing is invisible. Creative darlings are a vanity, divas hogging the spotlight, staying center stage long after their scene is over, feeding our egos off and starving our meaningful work.

Beautiful though they may be, they are demanding, needy, spoiled brats.

So you, me, and every other creative type out there has a tough choice to make.

Do we want to write perfect phrases that will be praised, or do we want to write a full article, a story, a play? Do we want to paint a spot of beautiful color, or an entire scene that works together?

If we want to be good creative parents to our projects (and not just parent PARTS of our projects) we’ve got to be strict disciplinarians,  despots, and tyrants…

Because those darlings have got to go.  Rationalize it however you must, but sacrifice them, spill their blood.

Don’t limit your rampage to writing.  Kill off any and all pet creative projects you’re overly attached to. Toss out that cheap end table you’ve refinished 5 times in 30 years, that never goes with anything. Cut up that silk skirt you bought 3 years ago and have never worn.  Take a razor blade to your life.

Be murderous, be dangerous.

Be brave.


MindTWEAK: Please, please don’t admire all my shiny pretty metaphors. I’m only publishing this as an example of what not to do, you know. Pay no attention to that small darling behind the curtain.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lea 08.15.08 at 5:45 am

Hi Tori

I have been researching the ‘murder your darlings’ quote and came across your piece, which was a great read. I really like the illustration you used (the knife piercing the text) and wondered if you could let me know where it is from. If possible, I would like to use it in essays and presentations on editing. (I am studying professional writing at RMIT in Melbourne Australia). I look forward to hearing from you.


2 Tori Deaux 08.15.08 at 12:29 pm

Thanks, Lea… glad that you enjoyed it! (Rereading it, this may be one of my favorite pieces. I’m glad I didn’t murder it.)

As for the image, it’s one I cobbled together from two images from StockXchng ( ) The only copy i have seem to have is the low resolution one here. But if you do a search for “bloody knife” and “script” on you’ll find the knife and several similar handwriting samples that are royalty free. Just plonk them in any graphics program that promotes layers, rotate the knife, and play with transparency til it suits you. If you need help, let me know, it’d only take me a moment to recreate a higher res version.

Hope that helps,