Don’t Kill Your Darlings…Put Them Up for Adoption!

Posted on June 21, 2013 by Joanna H

Are You Leaving Your Darlings in a Safe Place?We’ve all been there: just finished up that perfect piece of web content writing, checked it over one last careful time, and hit “Submit,” confident that this is the HVAC coil maintenance piece that will change your client’s business…your life…the world. Or at least your writer’s rating.

Then you wait. And wait some more. Until there it is in your in-box: the response for which you’ve been waiting, the one in which your client not only accepts your expert writing, but confers upon you the never-before-seen, “Exceeded My Expectations by Leaps and Bounds and Deserves a Pulitzer Prize in Content Writing, If There Were Such a Thing” rating. Instead, you are met with a cheerful greeting, followed by a sucker punch. “Hello Joanna! You have 1 assignments that require revision.”

Pause. Think it over. Realize that you could have overlooked a specification of the assignment, or maybe the client—both HVAC professional and grammarian—caught a split infinitive. As it turns out, the client just hates you. He hates your dog, he hates the way you chew your food, and most of all, he hates your writing. Well, maybe he doesn’t hate you, or any of those you-related things. But he doesn’t love you, either, and there is some work ahead.

I am in the throes of one such assignment now. I thought I had delivered what the client wanted. Instead, I was politely informed of the many ways in which the piece failed: so many that the client suggested I scrap the entire thing and start fresh—approximately eight hours into a piece with the ability to earn $14.22. The client has been patient, encouraging, and completely committed to his concept. That commitment is a good thing in the long run: it’s what makes the world go ’round. Alternatively, I have been responsive, determined, and enthusiastic in my attempts to say what needs to be said. After all, that is our writerly nature. Without that instinct, we’d be marketing pharmaceuticals or selling radio ads, not professional content writers.  Still, after the third rejected draft, I found myself at a crossroads: walk away, or see it through.

I went with the latter, keeping one critical thought in mind. William Faulkner famously said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” As much as I hate to disagree with the Count, refraining from killing my darlings is what gets me through. I have become increasingly aware that there are sometimes things we just can’t use. Instead of discarding these precious creatures with one click of the delete key, I have learned to keep them in an “Orphans” file, saved in perpetuity. I don’t ever kill my darlings: I put them up for adoption.

I am not the first writer to propose that our craft is equivalent to parenthood. Your creative efforts give birth to new life. You nurture that new life as best you can, and then send it out into the world. You want everyone to love it as much as you do. But that’s not always the way it goes. By saving my darlings, I free myself to let go of good material that hasn’t yet found the right home. And by paying these “orphans” the occasional visit, I gain access to unexpected creative inspiration.

Joanna H is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.


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