Maybe your darlings don’t have to die

by gigigriffis
Writing station with laptop, notes, and coffee

When it comes to writing advice, there are a few things you’ll hear more than once. (Like, way more than once. Like, until the advice makes you want to punch something.)

You’ll hear people say you have to write every day (for the record: I disagree). 

You’ll hear that you need a thick skin (for the record: this feels like an excuse to treat writers poorly). 

And you’ll hear this one:

“Kill your darlings.”

The idea here is that after you’ve written your book and gone into the trenches of revision, you need to get ready to ruthlessly part with some things you love. Maybe it’s a character. A plot point. A twist. A romantic sub-plot. Or just your favorite turns of phrase.

And while this isn’t bad advice, per se, it’s also not advice that works for me. 

I don’t want to cut my favorite chapter, to discard that subplot, to toss a perfect turn of phrase in the trash. It feels like erasing the hard work and creativity that got me here.

I don’t mean that I won’t revise. I am a ruthless cutter. I will kick a chapter right on outta here for not contributing properly to plot or pacing.

But I’m not killing anything.

I’m saving them. Tucking those chapters, characters, ideas, lines, away in a safe place for a later resurrection. Just because they’re wrong for this book or this chapter or this moment doesn’t mean they’re wrong for every book and every chapter and every moment. Later on, those things may come in handy.

In fact, as you may already know, in 2023, I have a YA horror book coming out. (!!!!!!) And the mystery in that book? It was something from my “saved for later” file. 

That’s right. It was an idea that didn’t work for a previous book. An idea that I re-tooled for the book that will be my YA debut.

I’d already mapped out what happened, who-done-it. I knew the shape of the mystery, the backstory of the girl who disappeared. But that mystery hadn’t been right for that book at that time. So into a file it went, not to die, but to rest.

And when it was time to write a book about a disappearance during the ’90s Satanic Panic, I pulled that mystery plot out and dusted it off. I slid my characters into it and, holy heck, it worked. I used the plot points almost exactly as I’d originally imagined them, only with new characters and a very different backdrop.

That’s the first time one of my save-for-later files is going to be in a traditionally published novel. But it’s not the first file I saved, and I’m sure it won’t be the last I repurpose. 

Which is why I don’t love the metaphor of death. 

What is dead may never die. In writing, at least. 

If something deserves to go forever, delete away. But if something still speaks to you and it’s just not right for this book, this chapter, this moment, tuck it away from the next rainy day. Your darlings don’t deserve to die. They deserve their best chance – be it in this project or another, this chapter or one yet unwritten.

Go forth, smuggle those darlings along for the journey. 

And if you’re curious about that mystery I resurrected? You can join my mailing list and be the first to know when the book comes out. Or add it on Goodreads!

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1 comment

Penny July 18, 2022 - 7:42 am

Hi, Gigi,
As a visual artist doing collage and mixed media work, I have plenty of times when a piece just doesn’t work, but has some interesting, and yes, loved portions. I file them away to be cut up, painted over, stitched, as a part of something new. Sort of the same thing that you’re referring to. What doesn’t work in one context often works in a new one! Interesting and thought provoking post, as usual…

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