Murder your darlings

Of all the advice I’ve ever heard or read on the art of writing, the best comes from one of my college English professors. She was English herself, and said to me in the way that only a Brit can, “Murder your darlings.”

The phrase comes from a lecture titled “On Style” given by British journalist, critic, and novelist Arthur Quiller-Couch when he was serving as a professor of English at Cambridge University in the early 20th century. The idea is to write objectively and avoid getting so lost in love with your favorite words, phrases, or ideas that you can’t “murder” them for the sake of creating something more succinctly wonderful.

Seeing the slashes of my professor’s red pencil in my mind, this phrase is almost always with me when I write. What I didn’t expect was for this phrase to start creeping into other areas of my life far beyond the laptop. Of particular interest is its application to motherhood. Let me elaborate. (As succinctly as possible.)

Time management. This is a skill no mother can live without, and I’ve had to learn it the hard way. Far too many times I’ve ended up in a messy heap of frustration and discouragement simply because I tried to do more in a day than humanly possible. (This was especially true when there were babies and very small children in my home.) An hour of exercise, a home project, and a made-from-scratch dinner on the same day as volunteering at the preschool? Uh-uh. Knowing how to murder the darlings in your daily schedule can be the difference between going to bed with contentment and going to bed in tears.

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