Summer Writes: Week 4—Kill Your Darlings Edition

Photo negative of Rongorongo tablet. Source: Wikipedia.
Photo negative of Rongorongo tablet. Read more about Rongorongo and six other undeciphered scripts here. Source: Wikipedia.

According to Faulkner, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” Well, he may or may not have said that, and if he did, Arthur Quiller-Crouch probably said it first. Stephen King has a riff on the same idea:

Image credit: Adam Drake
Image credit: Adam Drake

The point is that the writing process is both creative and destructive—you have to put words, ideas, and evidence on the page, but you also have to be willing to destroy them when they’re not—or no longer—working. Screenwriter Dustin Lance Black talks about this in his own creative process, as well as his enviable work ethic:

Killing your darlings can be daunting, but at the first stage of the writing process, it’s also a relief. If you know you’re going to edit later, you don’t need to worry about making the first draft perfect, and that frees you to just write.

Weekly goals:

Steph: 1) Read article for Chapter Four revisions.
2) Move through at least 15 pages of revisions for Chapter Four.
3) Finish revisions to introduction.

Roberta: My goal this week remains largely the same, a minimum of 4 50-minute poms with 5 minute breaks and no more than 6 poms in a day no matter what (to avoid burnout). I’m going to lower my daily word goal this week so I don’t feel defeated. I’m aiming for 750 words a day for 5 days = 3750 for the week as I continue to work on Chapter 1.

Dan: This week, my goals are pretty much the same as last week—five fifty-minute poms, working 10-12, 1-3, and 330-430.

Nicole: Goals this week– keep triaging and get things to advisor!
1) Read the coming peer feedback on written intro, and do references. Make any necessary adjustments and pass this on to advisor ASAP.
2) Apply the agreed on changes to Chapter 3. This means taking out the “embededdness” argument and any points that sound causal. Replace with associational language and the new phrases. Also spend some time doing within-type contrasts and adding whatever I can say about gender to the within-type generalizations. This is doable.
3) Tues. or Thurs, get methods back from editor, make any necessary tweaks, add a little more on Milwaukee organizing and neighborhood history, and get this to advisor stat!
4) Pull through on Chapter 2 revision. It is moving. I just need to keep pulling it together. Like w/Ch 3, also do some within-type contrasts; talk about how there is the most contestation in one type in particular. This is the last frontier/ will require some brain cells.
5) Start to sketch out the conclusion with the stuff on the bridge metaphor.
6) I can’t get upset about any difficult feedback now.

Chez: – finish my conclusion chapter (Monday!)
– finish my presentation for the defense, incorporating feedback based on last week’s practice run
– do another practice run with friends on Thursday
– reread my dissertation
– anticipate and prepare for likely questions I’ll receive from committee members
– defend on Friday!

Meg: Goal: Mon.-Fri. I aim to write 1,000 words/day and possibly send very rough chapter draft on Fri. night or next Mon. am


9 thoughts on “Summer Writes: Week 4—Kill Your Darlings Edition

  1. One more quick link, this time from Publication Coach, on how to deal with perfectionism as a writer. I thought it would make a good pairing with the “kill your darlings,” since many of the tips revolve around giving yourself the permission to write a crappy first draft, knowing that you’ll revise it later.

  2. I also meant to ask this in the post itself, but how do you manage your darling slaughter? I like to keep a file in whatever platform I’m using (Word, Byword, Scrivener) titled “[Project] Detritus” or “[Project] Overflow.” If I want to delete anything from my manuscript, I cut and paste it into the detritus/overflow file so that it’s there if I ever want to add it back in. Knowing that it’s not really gone makes me feel better about taking it out. Although now that I think of it, maybe I should start naming those files “[Project] Darlings.”

    If you have a good strategy for this process, add it to the comments!

  3. My low-tech solution: When I cut stuff, I open a new word file with the subject of what was cut (better) as in “Gender views at DOC,” or the date it was cut as in “Cut from gender chapter 5_22_14” (passable, but less helpful). Then when I am on the go later I can snag what I need back as needed. I put the files in the same folder as the thing chapter or paper it was cut from.

  4. Achievements this past week: turned in things three times: turned in my intro/theory chapter to my advisor, after her tough comments turned in the revised intro/theory chapter, and then turned in my methods chapter to her (after an editor suggested changes).

    To do this week: It is really down to the wire for when things need to be in to my advisor and then the committee for the defense. I am trying to stay calm.

    1) Empirical Chapter 3 revision. Still take out any remaining points that sound causal, replacing it with associational language, add elective affinity, and keep going with the reordering. Also spend some time doing within-type contrasts and adding whatever I can say about gender to the within-type generalizations.

    2) Empirical Chapter 2 revision based ideas about varied roles of state, non-profit cooptation, and state withdrawal I set up in the intro, visions of citizenship in the intro, and table from the chapter before. Needs more within-type contrasts; talk about how there is the most contestation in one type in particular.

    4) As time permits, work on conclusion more.

    5) Remain calm overall; I can’t get upset about any difficult feedback now; hopefully committee members will understand 3 full weeks in advance isn’t possible.

  5. I was less successful meeting my goals this week, but I did make some good progress on my chapter/article. I’m seeing the benefit of working on a writing project (almost) every day. This week I’m going to be in the archives at Chicago, so writing may be a challenge. My idea is to do a 50-minute pom in the morning before I go to the library and one in the evening, M-F. This week I’d also like to finish the section I’m working on, which is the final substantive section of the chapter/article.

  6. Successfully defended my dissertation last Friday. Goals for this week:
    – complete revisions on dissertation that came out of the defense
    – complete formatting of full dissertation
    – start planning possible articles coming out of the dissertation, based on committee members’ feedback

  7. Yay, Chez!!!

    I got my rough chapter draft to my advisor on Thursday. Now the focus needs to be on turning around this R & R and finalizing my research statement for job applications before I start mapping out a second chapter.The word count goal worked well for me last week, but won’t work so well for these types of activities, so I am going to try the 50-minute poms that are working for others, aiming to do between 4 and 6 each day.

  8. apparently I forgot to set goals last week? I had a productive week, hitting the archives on the weekdays and taking time to do some writing on how I’m using my sources (have decided to cobble my intro together as it comes to me) and on the weekend, I made a basic outline for chapter 2 based on research I did last week. I also did some vital networking. For the coming week, I am going to do additional research for my very rough chapter 1, and start filling my outline for chapter 2 in with research I’ve done so far so I can get a better sense of the gaps. Hitting the archives every day and doing a little writing every day, as I am finding I have too much research momentum at this point to take full days off to write.

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