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M is for Murder – Or as Stephen King says: "Kill your darlings."

I can't read Stephen King. Every time I've tried, I've had to sleep with all the lights on for weeks, which does terrible things to the electric bill.

Luckily he did write one not-scary book - a memoir of his life as a writer. The man is a master craftsman, and his memoir offers one of the most quoted pieces of writing advice of all times:

"Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings."

Considering who the advice is coming from, "kill your darlings" might sound uncomfortably literal. But King is not in fact promoting the murder of small children, or even the killing off of favorite characters. "Kill your darlings"--a phrase first used by William Faulkner - is a way of saying that to make a book work, you have to be ready to cut anything that doesn't serve the whole, even those bits of your own writing that you most adore.

It's no different with scholarly writing. Sometimes an essay, or even a whole dissertation chapter, can start with what feels like a perfectly worded opening sentence, or a perfect concluding paragraph, or a perfect metaphor that gets woven into the discussion at multiple points. But as things take shape, and the argument becomes clearer and more complete, often that perfect line or paragraph or metaphor becomes the one thing that just doesn't fit anymore.

I suspect that nine times out of ten people choose to leave their little darlings in, even when they don't quite make sense in context anymore. It's all about pride, of course. It just feels so have one perfect, stunning sentence, or a really cool metaphor.

Unfortunately, those little things sometimes skew an entire argument. They break the flow of the logic, or leave the reader wondering if there's something else they were supposed to have gotten from the piece.

If the goal is a better text overall, there's only ever one choice: cut the little darlings out; dump their little digital bodies into the digital trash; and move on. :|

No mercy. Do it now.