There is a lot to unpack about these phrases. Both of these are weird phrases that writers use that seem blatantly violent and completely absurd. Yet, these phrases have probably saved my writing multiple times.
I first heard the “kill your darlings” phrase in my undergraduate poetry workshop, and I’ll admit it was painful to hear. We were discussing another student’s poem and some of the students felt that lines (or entire stanzas) didn’t work well in the poem and should be cut. The student graciously accepted these suggestions and responded with “gotta kill your darlings sometimes.” My eyes widened; I couldn’t imagine deleting such carefully crafted words!
My fright was quickly replaced with relief. With further class discussion, I realized that while the student may have to remove those lines or stanzas from the poem, that didn’t mean they had to throw them out completely. Instead, the lines could go into another document for later. The darlings were saved! With this idea, I found myself beginning to keep a document with lines, dialogue, or scenes that I wanted to use in the future. It was difficult at first since I saw potential in these little baby writings, but I knew that they would be shaped into something more beautiful and brilliant once I ruminated on them some more.
Little did I know that this document of fragmented darlings was becoming what my Writing Collective calls a “Parking Lot Doc”—a document that holds all the things that are waiting to travel to other pieces of writing; like a storehouse of thoughts.
What’s my point in giving these stories? Well, my misunderstanding of “kill your darlings” and “parking lot docs” is not uncommon amidst the writer world; many people would wince with pain and confusion hearing these phrases. However, knowing about the meaning of these phrases could save your writing, as they saved mine.
When I was younger and less experienced, I felt the need to put all of my ideas and inspirations into one story or even a single scene. I was constantly shoving more into my writing and this caused my plots to become convoluted and my characters to feel flat. This overwhelming anxiety of proving my abilities as a writer manifested in my determination to put everything into one story because I didn’t want to “lose” anything. Yet, now I recognize that these darling ideas, inspirations, scenes, and lines were often unfit for the story(ies) that I was writing. Essentially, I could’ve removed (or murdered, if you like violent imagery) many of my darlings.
Once I started using the Parking Lot Doc however, I felt free to shape my story to its true self—either if that’s the plot or the characters’ dimensional selves. With the Parking Lot Doc, I didn’t have to shove nonsensical scenes or uncoordinated phrases into my stories. Instead, I could give my darlings a comfortable place to soak in the rumination of my thoughts until I decided where they would fit best.
My advice? Don’t worry about getting everything into one story. There are ways to incorporate things later (in like a 2nd or 3rd or 100th draft), or you can save the darlings for another story that would be more fitting. Focus on finding one story at a time, and when new ideas or stories come up, keep track of them, but don’t smother them with attention.