“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
I read these words in Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft several years ago, and they stuck. They percolate to the surface of my mind whenever I am editing a piece, especially my own. Whether you write for a living or are in a business that only occasionally involves writing, it’s good advice (and appropriately stated, coming from the master of horror.) What it means is this: cut out the unnecessary parts, even if you love them. Why you might ask, would you love those parts if they were unnecessary? Several reasons:
You feel strongly about a point – perhaps it’s political, possibly it’s part of your chosen profession. When we are passionate about the subject matter, we tend to re-state the same points over and over again in consecutive sentences, rephrasing it each time. You’ll say it once and then say it again a different way. You’ll say the same thing twice or even three times. It’s the same point just reworded. You’ll just repeat yourself…repetitively.
Pick the sentence that says it best, or combine parts of sentences for what most accurately says what you mean. Cut the other ones out. The “Issue #1” paragraph above is about four sentences too long.
Your thoughts on your subject matter are not well-formed, but you know it’s an important subject. Let’s say you want to write about tips for exercising, but you haven’t thought through the details. Your sentences are full of passion but ramble without ever getting specific, and suddenly you’re up to 1,000 words without having written any concrete tips.
Two words: research and organize. If your thoughts are more broad-scope than specific on a topic, do some digging online. Then, write up an outline of the specific points you want to make. Afterward, as you edit, ask yourself, “Does this sentence serve to help make my point, or is it off topic or vague?” Example: There is no need to tell people what you are not going to talk about. Anything you follow with, “…but this is beyond the scope of this article,” can almost assuredly be cut out.
You know a lot of detail about the topic – the opposite of problem two. If you are writing about your profession, you may be tempted to go into more detail than your audience can bear. Sometimes we lose touch with what a layperson knows and will find intriguing when we are entrenched in the minutia of our own craft.
As fascinating as you may find the technical details of how your particular widgets are made, the general public is usually interested in a broader stroke they can relate to in their own lives. Have a friend not in your profession read your piece. Consider cutting anything they find confusing or boring. Again, stick to your overall point. More detail is not always better.
Sometimes, keeping to a certain word count can be helpful. If you are determined to get something down to 500 words for a blog post, you are less likely to indulge yourself in rambling. No matter what you’re writing, you want people to read it. So kill your darlings, because they are just that – yours – and not necessarily your audience’s.