Writing a great draft (by crucifying my darlings)

What do the people below have in common?


John McCain

Jk rowling



Dalai Lama

In other words: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, John McCain, J.K. Rowling, Hercules, Bertrand Russell and the Dalai Lama.

Answer: They are people whose “lives” or stories I have cut from the second draft of my book manuscript.

Now, I am entirely aware that seeing these people on the same list is bizarre to begin with. What could they possibly have done in the same book–my book-in the first place? Why would I cut them out now? And who might be left?

I’m not at liberty to answer these questions right now, but I will say this:

Good writing and editing is in part about “crucifying your darlings,” as Ed Carr, one of my editors at The Economist, once said to me. And I have decided–boldly and without regret–that my book will be better with fewer lives.

Less is more, in other words. The total word count has stayed the same, but I have gone much deeper into the characters I have chosen, and have done a much better job weaving them together into precisely the narrative about success and failure that I am trying to produce.

I am very happy with the story that’s emerging. This, to me, is the fun part. How absurd that must sound to everybody else.

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5 thoughts on “Writing a great draft (by crucifying my darlings)

  1. Because of the acclaim with which this, your first book, will doubtless be met, your publishers (and public) will press you to write a sequel, in which you can include the stories of the luminaries you felt forced to omit in the first book.

  2. Andreas – recently finished a collection of great essays by Luc Sante called “Kill all your darlings” – he attributes the quote to Faulkner.

    Also recently came across an interesting writer, Carl Hoffman, who records his thoughts on writing/editing at the link below. Killing your darling requires more artistry.

    “Just getting all the words down on the page from start to finish has seemed physical, an act of mental will and physical stamina that leaves me spent, exhausted, emptied out as the weeks pass. But it’s the second part, the finishing and revising and tweaking and tightening, which is probably more difficult. That will require more artistry, more care, more nuance and control.”

    • The quote just after the one you cite is also interesting:

      “And something else has hit me: I’m scared of finishing! With every story, and ten times more with a book, you have an idea, and then a vision of what that idea will look like. It’s a fantasy, and it fills you and sustains you and fuels you across tens of thousands of miles and over months of your life. And then you produce the thing itself and you do the best job you can, but you also run into your own limitations as a journalist, writer, storyteller; it’s never as good as you wanted it to be, imagined it would be. It falls short. There’s so much you meant to say but couldn’t! So much you meant to convey! It doesn’t seem deep enough. Rich enough. You want to chip away at it, whittle and scrape and add, until it’s what you imagined it would be, could be. You want it perfect!”

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