Killing Our Darlings: An Update on Our Book

I had a donut this morning, washed down by Diet Coke at 7 a.m. For lunch, I’ll probably have potato chips, alongside my second (or, let’s be honest, third) Diet Coke of the day. I haven’t planned dinner, but imagine there will be sugar and caffeine whatever pseudo-healthy fare I make for my family.

Cutting stuff out of my diet has never been easy. No matter how often I vow to stop drinking Diet Coke—or stop drinking it before 10 a.m.—I feel myself slipping back into the daily habit within moments of my vow. I know, I know: I’ve read the scary articles people post online about how Diet Coke will kill me, or how cutting sugar out of my diet will make me a more virtuous person; my husband has lectured me about how potato chips are empty calories and a bane on our household.

But, let’s face it, cutting out things that matter to us—to our happiness, if not our health—can be very difficult indeed.

The same applies to writing.

In August, a few weeks after submitting our manuscript to Chalice Press, our publisher, we received word that we needed to cut out almost a third of our book, and before the end of October if we wanted to meet our April 30 publication date.

Cut out several 100,000 characters? The task seemed impossible. Painful, at least.

But we trust Chalice Press, who has been publishing some great books. We knew they understood the market, and that they knew what was best. We began the hard work of cutting out our hard work.

Writers know about what it means to “kill your darlings,” to excise those sentences and paragraphs that seem profound, stirring, finely wrought.

We killed a lot of darlings in September.

The task is nearly completed, though, and we’ve reached our goal. One more read through and we will resubmit our much leaner manuscript. Leaner, but also much better: Turns out, killing your darlings can often be exactly what your writing needs. And the extra work we did in the last month has distilled our manuscript, until we are offering readers the best of what we’ve got.

I also know this experience will make me a better writing teacher, because I’ve gone through a process I often exhort my students to experience, too. Besides, I’ve kept all the superfluous material excised from our original manuscript. It’s in a file titled “Spanking for Jesus.” Sometimes, the really good stuff will have to wait.

This is all to say that our work, tentatively titled Meant to Be, is still on track to be published in the spring, and Kendra and I are thrilled. I might have another Diet Coke, just to celebrate. We can’t cut everything out of our lives all at once, right?