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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Two great Russians

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has died, and his happens to be one of the lives I’ve been researching for one chapter of my book. (Lots of reversals between disaster and triumph, obviously, including some non-obvious and subtle ones.)

This won’t make sense out of context, but I’m pairing him not only with Hannibal but also with another great Russian, Mikhail Gorbachev, although I’m just starting my research about him.

Can anybody recommend any great biographies of Gorbachev, especially ones that include his years since power–ie, his time in relative obscurity?

In the comments or by email, please. (The form underneath this page sends me an email.)

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