Kill your darlings

The term ‘kill your darlings’ was first attributed to the American writer and Nobel winning laureate, William Faulkner. In essence, a ‘darling’ is a piece of prose of which the writer (including myself on occasion) is so incredibly proud that they find it almost impossible to discard.

This prose usually takes the form of a simple word or phrase but could even be a sentence or an entire paragraph. It is always constructed in a way that makes the writer feel incredibly self-satisfied. Generally, it will contain words that are unnecessarily ostentatious or superfluous. However, in every instance, at the time of writing, the author will consider that he or she has just written something worthy of Hemingway or Joyce.

Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.

– Stephen King

It is something that every writer does of course. It doesn’t matter whether you write novels or blogs or even technical manuals. You will from time to time construct some errant piece of nonsense which on first reading will make your heart sing. If you only ever write for yourself then that may be acceptable. However, I will assume that if you are reading this then you probably don’t.

If you crave self-indulgence buy yourself a box of chocolates

Photo by Monique Carrati on Unsplash

Overly flowery language should be avoided at all costs. If your writing style seems like you’ve swallowed a copy of the Oxford English dictionary it will be extremely hard on your readers. For sure, it may make you appear learned and well-read, but it will also make you tiresome.

What is important in any piece of writing is the ‘flow. A good piece of prose should waft along rhythmically like a Dean Martin ballad. It definitely should not be as jarring and painful as a death metal anthem.

Keeping it simple then is definitely the way to go as far as writing a blog is concerned. Most blog viewers are skimmers. They will skim through your content, take what they need and then leave. Your ultimate goal is to convert them into regular readers. The best way to do this is to give them what they need in convenient bite-sized chunks. The easier your information is to digest the more likely they will feel comfortable with your style.

Edit, edit and then edit some more

Nobody, and I mean nobody, ever wrote anything of consequence without editing it at least a dozen times. No matter how good your copy may appear at first there is always a way to make it better.

The first draft of anything is shit!

A good rule of thumb is that if you can remove five words from a sentence and still make that sentence meaningful then that is what you should do. More than 20 words in a sentence are usually far too many. Try to ignore the fact that I began this paragraph by doing exactly the opposite.

If your focus is mainly blog posts and shorter content pieces then anything that you can remove to simplify your language is a good thing. A blogger is not usually concerned with plot twists and character development for example. However, this principle is still relevant no matter what sort of content you create.

If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

– Ernest Hemingway

I distinctly remember the first piece of content that I ever submitted for a magazine. Three thousand words of what I considered to be pure literary genius. Proudly I handed it into the editor for his approval. He promptly disappeared into his office only to reappear 10 minutes later to hand it back. What was returned to me was a heavily redacted 750-word article.

The moral of the story… Be brutal when editing your work.

Place yourself in the mind of the reader

By this I mean try to re-read your work as if you are reading it for the first time. How does it sound? Are you getting your point across in a clear and concise manner? In your own mind imagine what it is that your readers will be getting from your content. Presumably, you already know what it is you want to say. If you want them to come back, they must too.

Remember, if you write something purely for yourself then that is a diary entry. If, on the other hand, you want and expect others to read it then be very sure that they understand your message.

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