Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch: "Murder your darlings"

'Murder your darlings.' It's the writing advice you hear everywhere, but who first said it?

The answer is this blog's new hero, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.

In his The Art of Writing, published in 1916, he said:

Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — wholeheartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.

And it's good advice. It's the overall effect of a piece of writing, whether it's a poem or a work memorandum, that matters.

In the days when I wrote lots of columns, when I hit upon a subject I would often think at once of a joke, quotation or anecdote I could include. And I would start the writing of the column by setting it down.

Often, I would find I was short of room to make my arguments. And I would sadly conclude that the way to make more of it was to sacrifice the couple of paragraphs that had got me going.

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