Kill Your Darlings

About music mondays, songwriting


“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.” -Arthur Quiller-Couch

“In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” -William Faulkner

The above quotes, or some varying versions of this, were always discussed as a piece of writing advice in college. It makes sense–just because you love something you wrote, doesn’t mean it works. That being said, I’ve found a couple of blog posts (here and here) that dispute this piece of advice, taking it entirely literally. Of course, this is subject to interpretation, and I do not know either figure well enough to glean their true meaning. But to me–and I do get to cheat, as a songwriter rather than a literary writer–this is what it means.

It is not: If you love it, get rid of it. It is: If you love it, you shouldn’t necessarily indulge it. And this is something I certainly agree with, both in writing and relationships. I’ve written a lot of shitty songs (as we discussed in my last post) but I wrote them because I feel them, and I needed to write them, and I certainly have a fair amount of fondness for them, even acknowledging they’re not my best work. Similarly, I’ve stopped seeing people because, even though their company may be enjoyable and my desire to be near them desperate, it’s just not good for me.

There’s no need to force something that’s not going to work, I guess is my bottom line. Attachments and feelings aside, you can’t turn an indulgent song into a pop hit. And you can’t turn a fundamentally flawed relationship into a real one. The trick is to see which one is which.

2 Responses to “Kill Your Darlings”

  1. Jonah Rank says:

    Awesome song and thoughts! I’m having a post-college songwriting splurge lately, and it’s amazing how certain songs you just NEED to write for yourself and nobody else will ever quite appreciate them; and then certain songs really work for others.

    As a writer, I really love your “Good Songs” above! Awesome job, Millie, and I hope all’s good!

  2. Tiffany W says:

    Millie, you’re so right about the need to self-edit. I’ve always found though, as long as you keep writing as you feel it, it’ll work out. You’ll write a lot of crappy songs, sure, but there will be a few gems in each hundred of those that make you glad you never held back. And they get better every time :)

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