This is a famous quote by English writer, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, which he used in a lecture he gave at Cambridge University nearly a century ago. (As an aside, Quiller-Couch was the inspiration for the character of Rat in The Wind in the Willows). Over the years it has also been attributed to other famous writers from William Faulkner to Stephen King.
Anyway, ‘murder your darlings’ is all about editing your work. The idea is to edit and cut objectively and without sentiment. Just like you would if you were to kill a loved one.
When you are writing some text for your website or other marketing materials, it’s easy to get hung up certain words and phrases that you are jolly pleased with. You know the kind of thing, no-one knows what it means, but wow, it sounds good. When you are ‘back-fitting’ all your other content to accommodate that word or phrase, that is the time to ruthlessly kill it.
What’s the difference between a ‘strategic partnership’ and ‘partnership’?
You must have seen this kind of thing: “At XYZ Widgets, we forge strategic partnerships with like-minded organisations ….blah, blah, large bowl of porridge…blah.” Total rubbish.
- The use of the word strategic adds nothing.
- The reader will have no idea what it means (and won’t care either)
- I’m pretty confident that the writer will have no idea what it means either
- It’s pretentious and is designed to make the writer sound ‘big and clever’.
So what do you do? Kill it.
- Go back over your copy and work out your habits. Are there any overused phrases or words?
- When you’ve identified what your habits are, experiment with alternatives to see how it sounds.
- Look out for what literary buffs call ‘pleonasms’. A pleonasm is a word that can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning, e.g. ‘I sat down’ versus ‘I sat’. So the word down is the pleonasm.
- Cut out redundant words. For example, phrases like ‘like ‘totally unique’. Something is either unique or it isn’t. Kill the word ‘totally’.
That’s it for this article. Watch out for bad habits and experiment with alternatives. It will freshen everything up and will make your message clearer.