Put Your Darlings to the Test (Before You Kill Them) – A Tip for Revising with Clarity

Have you ever found yourself staring down a page or chapter in your revision, knowing you have to cut or rewrite major chunks of text, and thinking, “I DON’T WANNA DO IT!” Or maybe you say to yourself, something along the lines of, “But I love that passage! It’s some of my best work!”

But we all know that sometimes to make a good scene great you have to (let’s say it all together!) “Kill your darlings!”

But if you want to become a productive writer, you have to be able to tell which darlings to keep and which to kill. So, here’s a mind trick I discovered to put those darlings to the test and discover if they really ARE that great…or if they’re just sort of, kind of great, and my reluctance to kill them stems more from the fear of not being able to do better. (Sound familiar???)

Here’s what I do: I cut and paste the entire scene or chapter I’m trying to revise OUT of my main document. Get it out of there. REMOVE IT COMPLETELY. I paste it in another separate document. I then set those document windows side by side so I can see them both at once and I start the scene or chapter from scratch. That’s right.  Blank page. Fresh Start. White horizon. (Sometimes I’ll even start a brand NEW document just for the revision of that scene). Now here’s where the hack comes in. You’re allowed to put anything from the original scene/chapter back into the new version of the scene/chapter BUT…here’s the caveat. You can’t copy and paste anything back in. You have to RETYPE it. Every. Single. Word.

What this little nifty trick does is:

1) Forces you to really decide if it’s worth keeping. It’s a lot harder to retype than it is to cut and paste (or type around text that’s already on the page.) Once you have to retype that entire passage back in word for word, your brain goes, “Ugh. Is this really worth it?” And you’ll have an easier time answering that question truthfully. You might get halfway through retyping that passage you thought was the best work you’ve ever done, only to discover that it’s really not and all of this retyping work is not actually worth it.

2) Just the act of retyping the words (which is essentially re-writing it) puts your brain into a different gear. Essentially, it puts your brain BACK into drafting mode and you can see that old passage with new eyes. It’s strange, but just the act of retyping it, often gives me a new perspective on the text and I find myself typing NEW things along with the old things. Literally revising the passage as I type. Instead of trying to cram new things into an existing chunk of text (where my ego is clinging desperately to things it probably shouldn’t be clinging to) I’m able to revise as I type and decide what stays and goes in the “moment.” Which oftentimes works out better for me.

So give this little hack a try. Find a scene or chapter or passage that needs to be revised, get it out of your manuscript and add it back “manually”—word by word. See if it helps you look at your writing with a bit more clarity.

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