Monday, November 5, 2012

Are you willing to kill your darlings?

"Kill your darlings"1 - a provocative and pithy piece of advice from the creative writing world. The idea of sacrificing your precious attachments, whatever they are, to serve the bigger picture. The ability to step back from your ego, release yourself from your fixed view and surrender to your higher purpose. An action which can be challenging, frightening and ultimately liberating.

Advice which I have figured out, is rather useful, not only in writing, but also in my world of leadership consulting and well, life in general.

In writing, it may involve culling words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes or characters. 

In consulting, it has applicability in various areas such as:

  • Communicating a compelling vision:  helping leaders to kill their own preciously-held prejudices and limitations to use metaphors and story to engage hearts and minds.

  • Role transition and CV/ interview preparation:  helping leaders to let go of some of their proud achievements of the past.  There is a need to provide evidence of a successful track record and to ensure that excessive detail does not get in the way of the message they want to communicate about who they are and what they offer.

  • Coaching:  Building managers' coaching skills and confidence to stand back from offering their valuable advice and wisdom, so they can help the other person find their own answers and solutions.

  • Leadership programme design and facilitation:  understanding that culling is part of balancing knowledge and craft as a consultant. There can be the tendency to over design programmes and workshops to demonstrate one’s expertise, knowledge and innovation. It is worse still, if when facilitating, you fail to stand back from what you have designed and not work with what is emerging in the moment. 

And it is useful in any aspect of our life, where we are selling our ideas or ourselves, creating something on our own or as part of a team, and interacting with others.  At any of these times we can get caught up with our beloved attachments and fail to see the forest for the trees.  These attachments may be to our beliefs /thoughts/ opinions/ experiences/achievements/ whatever.  Yes, they are part of us, but fixating on them will be our undoing.  
Sometimes, killing them is the simple act of knowing when to shut up.

  • 1. As found in Fishman, R. (2000)  Creative Wisdom for Writers, Allen & Unwin, Aus.  Seems the expression has been attributed to various authors including William Faulkner “In writing, you must kill all your darlings” and Stephen King “kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings” (
  • Image courtesy of dan/  
  • As an aside, I notice there is movie due out next year of the same title “Kill Your Darlings” which brings together the great poets of the beat generation: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.

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