Murder Your Darlings

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

Arthur Quiller-Couch

This is generally agreed to be good advice to writers. Such good advice, in fact that it has been attributed to a whole clutch of famous writers, such as Faulkner, Oscar Wilde and Chekov. Not that Wilde was ever likely to have said it, but he just attracts attributions.

What it means is that when you write something particularly fine it is probably wandering off the point and needs to be done away with.

I have a haibun like that. It is based on observation, it has been pared down, sent out, pared down again, sent out… You get the picture. Four times I have sent it out, hopefully having been improved each time, and four times it has bounced back. I’m beginning to feel that I’m the only one who likes it.

This is the version I consider the best one. I have removed several of the improvements because I prefer it this way. The finished version included Gordon’s Gin and Lemons, when the real life version featured supermarket vodka and limes. I just thought it warmed things up a little, as the idea of a fragile pensioner laying into cheap vodka is a little bleak. It clearly didn’t work. I also think lemon scans better than lime, but maybe that’s just me.

It might not be the text or the story, of course, it may just be that the haiku is weak. This has been a matter for discussion with several of my published pieces, and may well have played a part in the non-selection of others.

The way to kill a poem is to publish it on a website. Editors don’t want previously published work. If anyone has any ideas as to why it never made the grade, I’d be happy to hear them.

I don’t generally publish my own work, as you know, because I’m never sure about the quality unless a proper editor has selected it. In this case I’m making an exception because I’m looking for ideas, and making you all accessories to murder.


One Perfect Lime

The leopard print boots attract my attention. They are several sizes too big for the woman wearing them, and, I think ungallantly, several decades too young.

She is thin and almost translucent, with wispy white hair and the twitching neck movements of an egret.

Shuffling down the aisle in her overly large boots, and getting in my way, she carries a basket containing own-brand yoghurt and a bag of carrots. We go our own ways, but as so often happens we meet in another aisle. Her shopping has increased by one small wholemeal loaf and a bottle of supermarket vodka. She is selecting an unwaxed lime with great care, holding it up to the light and turning it to see all sides.


years have passed

since you last danced

one perfect lime



From the Stained Glass Museum at Ely Cathedral

20 thoughts on “Murder Your Darlings

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  3. Laurie Graves

    I’m going to present an opposing view. If you kill all your darlings, what do you have left? The things you hate?

    I agree with the repetition of “own,” but you have come up with a good solution. You have written a vivid portrait of an old woman, and I can’t help but cheer her defiance in choosing the leopard print boots and her spunk in buying the vodka. Unless, of course, she’s an alcoholic. Then, so sad. But maybe she’s going to have some friends over for afternoon drinks because even those on a budget need companionship. See what you’re writing has evoked?

  4. derrickjknight

    I agree with Jodie about the duplicated “own”. How about using one of the supermarket’s phrases for bog standard – like “everyday”? I like the work. Perhaps the editors don’t like pathos – nothing wrong with that in my opinion. This is not a woman who can afford the best

    1. quercuscommunity

      I’ll look at that – it may be that we go our separate ways. I’m also tempted by rearranging the shopping and having her buy budget brown bread, though alliteration is frowned on in haiku circles. 🙂

  5. jodierichelle

    The title got me because (although I am not a fan of most of his books,) Stephen King wrote one of my favorite books on writing and he said “Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.” – Stephen King “On Writing”

    I am no poet – and my opinion should not be trusted. The only thing that struck me badly was “own-brand yoghurt and a bag of carrots. We go our own ways” the two “own”s in there threw me.

    Otherwise, I loved the image of the big boots and the twitching egret.

    1. quercuscommunity

      Stephen King says it in a much more interesting way. 🙂

      You don’t need to be a poet to comment – as long as you can read you can sense what is not right. I struggled over that section originally because of the presence of “own-brand” vodka, which became “Gordon’s Gin” then “supermarket vodka”. I missed the other “own”.

      Tricky stuff, this editing!


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