Kill Your Lazy Darlings

by Massimo Marino

During the editing process you need to cut, cut, cut. In writing, economy is gold: too many words can spoil a sentence and distract the reader. In my novels I end up cutting from 10,000 to 20,000 words from an average first draft of 100,000 words.

Everybody is guilt of lazy writing and that’s fine with your first round, but don’t keep those tens of thousand words that just hang around the page, don’t move the plot forward, don’t show anything, don’t give the reader strong descriptions. They are lazy ink users, or pixels noise.

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Don’t be afraid, kill your lazy darlings, they only decrease the intensity of the narration.

Here’s some (lazy) examples.

“Manfred bursted into the room holding a blaster in his hand.” Where else would he hold it? In his ears? Drop the “in his hand.”

“Manfred bursted into the room holding a blaster.” Is the room holding the blaster? Of course not, but changing location can make the sentence — and the right image — stronger and more precise. “Holding a blaster, Manfred bursted into the room.”

“Both Alaston and Mênis were unable to answer and stared at him.” Imagine a scene with three people involved in the conversation and only two were asked the question, “Both” doesn’t add a thing. Also, can you remove the passive form? “Alaston and Mênis stared at him, unable to answer.”

“’That’s weird,’ Annah said hugging herself.” This is dialogue, we can cut the “That’s”. More, we don’t even need ‘said’:

“Weird.” Annah hugged herself.” A lot of “said” can be sent to the garbage without a second thought. Besides, without ‘said’ the sentence reads cleaner. The words that are left work harder and we get rid of a lazy ‘said’ showing an action. Who says “Weird.” in the scene is obvious.

“Dan and Manfred left the Council Room together, at the same time.” ‘Together’ and ‘at the same time’ are repetitious. If Dan and Manfred leave the room together the action has to be performed at the same time and vice versa, right? “Dan and Manfred left the Council Room together.” If Dan and Manfred left the room within a few minutes of each other the scene that needs to be conjured would be different.

“Manfred stood up from the chair and walked up and down across the room.” The reader doesn’t need a movement-by-movement description to get the vision of an impatient Manfred across the room. Also, he would stood from a previous sitting position. The reader can figure out he had to stand from where he sat in previous scenes before he could walk. Also, use precise verbs: what is walking up and down if not pacing? “Manfred stood, and paced the room.” Don’t you feel good when you create the same vision with six words instead of fourteen lazy ones?

“She read worry on his face for her.” You don’t need the “for her”. The situation show what he is worried about. “She read worry on his face.”

“Her whole family.” ‘Family’ means all members and makes the word ‘whole’ unnecessary. The reader knows you mean all members unless you specify some of them. “Her family.”

In each piece you write, go back and examine each word and weigh its place in the story. Ask youself these questions:

1. Is it repetitious?

2. Does it make sense?

3. Isn’t it obvious?

4. Is it that way because of grammar (dialogue can be ungrammatical to sound real)?

5. Do you have a clause that could be reduced to a word/verb?

6. Are words in the right place?

7. If I do a global search for “ly” will I find too many adverbs?

8. If I do a global search for “ing” will I find too many —ing verbs that might be strengthened?

9. If I do a global search for “was/were” can I make the sentence stronger removing the passive form?

10. For every sentence and for every paragraph, ask yourself “So what?”

Finally, always ask whether you killed all your darlings.

Find Alaston, Mênis, Annah, Dan, Manfred and others in the “Daimones Trilogy” – Daimones: Daimones Trilogy, Vol.1 – Once Humans: Daimones Trilogy, Vol.2 – The Rise of the Phoenix: Daimones Trilogy, Vol.3

Course Review: Finishing a Manuscript in 60 Days

“Learn how to write a first manuscript in 60 days using a method developed by Amazon bestselling author, J. Thorn.”  Grab the course here.

Why Take This Course?
By the end of 2014, J. Thorn will have published over one million words and sold more than 120,000 books worldwide. He is a Top 100 Most Popular Author in Horror, Science Fiction, Action & Adventure and Fantasy (Amazon Author Rank). In March of 2014 Thorn held the #5 position in Horror alongside his childhood idols Dean Koontz and Stephen King (at #4 and #2 respectively). He is an official, active member of the Horror Writers Association and a member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. J. is a contributor to disinformation and a staff writer for HeavyPlanet.

The course details the steps, and mindset, needed to write professionally and get your manuscript done. Because if you can’t finish, then you can’t sell!

2014-11-17_1125You have a story inside and yet every day you stare at the keyboard, paralyzed and unsure of how to begin. You’ve tried to get your thoughts organized but you don’t have a strategy, and that leaves you feeling empty and defeated.

My name is J. Thorn and there was a time when I didn’t know where to begin either. It can be frustrating trying to organize your project. I know how hollow and helpless that feels because I’ve been there. I can teach you what you need to know in a way you’ll understand, so you’ll be able to finish that manuscript in 60 days and feel like a champion.

The hard truth is that to write a novel, you must write. No shortcuts or fancy software will do it for you. If you wanted to get in shape, you’d ask a trainer to teach you a workout. You’d want to learn the process from a professional so you could do it for yourself.

A little help with organization and you can do what you thought was impossible. I’ve written more than ten novels and I’m going to share my process with you, which means you’ll feel confident and ready to finish that manuscript.

Sure. You could search Google for the best way to write a novel. You’ll get thousands, if not millions, of hits and most of them will contradict each other. Some will be written by people claiming to be authors, yet they’ve never written a single book. You’ll waste countless hours and never get exactly what you need.

What am I going to get from this course?

  • Over 12 lectures and 37 mins of content!
  • Main Objective: Finish the first draft of a novel in 60 days using the best practices of project management. Additionally, students will be able to…
  • Write the manuscript using a customized workbook to keep track of plot, character and word count.
  • Identify genre-specific word count targets in order to determine optimal length for publication.
  • Utilize one of the seven basic story types to create a new novel.
  • Organize the manuscript into three acts.
  • Determine next steps in the publishing process, including editing, formatting and cover design.

Grab the course here.

5 Things All Authors Should Stop Worrying About


Ninety percent of what you worry about will never happen. While your fears are meant to protect you on a primal level, they’re crippling for creative professionals like authors. To improve your chances of being a successful author, you need to shed most common concerns for writers.

Writer’s block is often a combination of bad habits and fear. In the coming months, Author Marketing Institute will try to help you get rid of the habits that have been holding you back. This article seeks to remove concerns that can likewise keep you staring at the blinking cursor.

Here are five things you should stop worrying about today if you want to become a successful author:

1. Quality of Your First Draft


There’s no such thing as a perfect manuscript, even after 100 drafts, so there’s no point in trying to make your first draft a masterpiece. When you’re just starting out as a writer, you may question almost every word and sentence you put down on the page. Here’s the big secret about writing you may not have heard. Authors writing their fiftieth book still question every word they write.

The thing that separates veteran authors from newbies is that they’ve learned to quiet that inner critic. They’re willing to write a terrible first draft using the first words that come to mind. Some authors use an outline and others fly by the seat of their pants, but all writers create first drafts that need a lot of work.

Get your first draft down on the page as quickly as possible. If a scene doesn’t feel right to you, then get to the end of it anyway. If you need to check a fact or the spelling of a word, then make a note of it and keep going.

There’s a certain feeling that comes over you when you finish a first draft. You know there’s a lot of work left to do, but you realize that you’re one step closer to completing your book. To achieve that feeling, you’ll need to stop worrying about the quality of your first draft. Finish it and fix it later.

2. One-Star Reviews

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A one-star review is not the worst thing in the world, but it may feel like it. When a person you don’t know posts a scathing critique of your book, you may experience a sensation akin to an ego uppercut. It’s painful and if you let it get to you, you may have trouble getting up and writing the next day.

Other peoples’ opinions shouldn’t define you as a writer or a person. The pain you feel from a one-star review is more about your reaction than what the critic wrote. There are several better ways to handle a negative review than crawling into a corner and letting it get in the way of your future writing.

First of all, you shouldn’t look at a one-star review as a personal attack. In most cases, these reviews demonstrate that the critic didn’t understand what your book was going for or that he was the opposite of your target reader. One bad review does not mean you’re a poor writer; it means that you’ve clearly identified someone who isn’t a fan. Not everyone will love your work, and one-star reviews can show you a better way to position your words going forward.

Secondly, one-star reviews are an opportunity for learning. If you can push aside the personal feelings of your work being judged so harshly, you may be able to glean some nuggets of wisdom from the review. If several negative reviews touch upon character development or poor dialogue, then you can use those cues to improve the book or strengthen your future writing.

Once you’ve calmed yourself about the review, remember that if you can gather enough reviews on your book, the inevitable one-star critiques will fall into obscurity.

3. Rejection

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There are many types of rejection authors need to deal with. Authors seeking to obtain an agent and a publisher are likely to receive rejection. Self-published author entrepreneurs can experience rejection from email advertisers and book reviewers. Every book a reader returns may also feel like a rejection. Rejection is part of the game, but some authors fear and avoid it as much as possible, resulting in fewer opportunities for success.

In On Writing, Stephen King discussed the many stories and manuscripts he had rejected when he was starting out. Some authors would give up after collecting a giant stack of tales that failed to gain approval from magazines and publishers. They might consider these rejections part of a failed writing career.

King didn’t. He continued to work and submit and place the rejected stories on a post on his wall. King learned from the editors’ notes, and he pressed on.

Like one-star reviews, rejections give you the chance to get something out of them. Even if you don’t deserve the rejections, you can certainly learn from them.

When a manuscript is rejected, figure out how to make it better or who might be a better fit to receive it. If an email advertiser doesn’t pick you up, then you should determine ways to improve your reviews, your blurb, and your cover. When you receive a few extra returns in a given month, test the book for errors and keep going.

An author who spends all his time worrying about or avoiding rejection will miss out on key lessons learned by those who pursue it. Go out there and get rejected. Your career will be better for it.

4. Piracy

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Of the many questions that come up in conference panels, questions about copyrights and ISBNs tend to be the least valuable. Authors who ask these questions are afraid that people will go out there and post their work for free on piracy sites. They hope that by enlisting the right combination of copyrights, legal statements, and digital rights management, they’ll be able to avoid such issues when they start out as a writer.

Information pirates don’t care about all that stuff. If your book is popular enough, they’ll find a way to download it and post it for free. Having your book pirated online is actually a sort of right of passage for most successful authors.

While you can go to a lot of trouble to get your book taken down from the offending sites, it’s often not worth it. The people who frequent sites like these tend not to buy digital products anyway, so you aren’t really losing any sales. In fact, pirate sites are a free source of promotion.

Non-fiction author and lifestyle guru Tim Ferriss has sold millions of books, and during one of his marketing campaigns, he used the power of piracy to his advantage. Ferriss launched The 4-Hour Chef using the file-sharing site BitTorrent to help his book sell 250,000 copies. If a guy who sells millions of books isn’t scared about his work being turned around and pirated through this service, neither should you.

Piracy and plagiarism are often tied together in concerns about copyrights and digital rights management. Plagiarism may be something to be concerned about, but it’s likely that by the time someone would make the effort to plagiarize your work, you’ll be making enough money for it not to have much of an impact.

5. Worthiness

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Writing is a very personal creative art form. You take the time to breathe life into your ideas and characters, sharing the very essence of who you are through these words. When you’ve tried your hand at writing your first story or novel, it can be easy to look at the books you love and think that you aren’t worthy as an author.

For now, ignore the fact that many of these authors started in the same place as you. Even if your books pale in comparison to the tales told by the masters, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t become an author.

Ira Glass, the host of This American Life, once did a piece on the curse of good taste. Authors and other artists often get into creative pursuits because they observe and want to embody the amazing work of their idols. The only problem is that they have such good taste in what makes good art that when they read their own beginner writing, they assume they don’t have what it takes to make it.

You are worthy. Maybe you haven’t put the time in yet to become as strong as you can, but there isn’t some patrolling group of fiction police that’s going to lock you up for your subpar first draft.

Don’t spend your time worrying about being a worthy writer. Instead, use that time to work on your craft and improve. With every story you create, you’ll grow as an artist. Eventually, you’ll be the one that novice writers look to when they want to aspire to something greater.

Fear Is Your Friend

It’s easier to say that you shouldn’t worry about something than it is to actually cut off that emotion. Reducing the time you worry about first drafts or one-star reviews doesn’t mean you’ll never be afraid. Even the smartest and most accomplished writers get worried from time to time.

What these authors and their up-and-coming peers understand is that fear is not a bad thing. When you’re afraid, it’s your brain telling you to avoid doing it, but you can use this emotion as a compass for the next step in your career. When something absolutely freaks you out with fear, it’s probably a direction you should head in.

If finishing your first novel makes you bite your nails down to the cuticle, then you should force yourself to do it. When a speaking opportunity comes along that gives you panicky flashbacks to middle school presentations, feel the fear and do it anyway. Authors who succeed may still have the above worries, but they’re willing to hold them back long enough to do all the work they need. Put your fears on the back burner and your chances for success will skyrocket.

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