Cut your darlings.
This is basic writer wisdom, but it’s scary to let go—especially when it’s that first idea, or that character that you love so much, or the brilliant point you make in your essay that has nothing to do with the rest of the writing.
Cut. Delete. Even if it’s beautiful writing. If it doesn’t add to the story, it’s got to go so that the whole piece becomes stronger and clearer. Sometimes, it becomes something you never could have imagined.
My first year as a flower gardener I grew little seeds in my garage over winter. I planted seedlings in the spring and I watched them grow from those first tiny sprouts to their first sets of true leaves.
Finally, in the beginning of the summer, I started to see faint dappled color along my pasture fence line. The first buds of Zinnias, Dahlias, and Cosmos.
Then I read what to do next.
CUT. Prune. Clip OFF those first hopeful beauties. Don’t even let them bloom. The idea is to pinch the first bud of each plant so that the plant will use that energy to produce more stems and blooms.
But what if the other buds never bloom?
Cut your darlings.
So that’s what I did.
The other day while roaming the office and art supplies aisle, I saw a journal that said, “Say Yes To Every Good Thing.”
My first thought was that someone with unhealthy boundaries must have designed the cover.
I used to be the person who said “yes” to every request, expectation, or whim.
It was easy to learn to say “no” to other people, but it’s been harder to learn to say “no” to myself when I have a really great idea or I feel the temptation to turn my current hobby (cooking, dog training, flower farming) into some sort of side hustle.
But it’s impossible to say “yes” to everything, even good things, and still really flourish.
So, cut your darlings.
After I pinched those first flower buds I felt sick. What if those were the only flowers I would ever get?
A couple of weeks after that initial pruning, I had too many flowers to keep up with—bouquets upon bouquets of flowers. All summer long I continued to prune and pinch and cut back dead flowers. I ripped out whole plants that weren’t producing well and taking up critical garden space.
Even arranging the flowers for the vase took a bit of editing. I stripped off leaves and tossed out certain flowers in order for the right ones to take the spotlight.
By the end of the summer, I had more than enough to share with neighbors. I brought arrangements to birthday celebrations, to sick friends, and to the church altar.
The experiment worked. My doubts were proved wrong.
I am in my second year of flower gardening and my zinnia buds are just emerging. This time, there has been no second-guessing this time as I snip away the first few buds, because I know what will happen. I am braver now.
But it’s not always that clear (or rewarding) in our writing and even less so in life.
When we see something good and beautiful we want to be part of it. We want to try it all, to have it all, to do it all. We are scared of losing opportunities. We imagine what could have been and we give ourselves anxiety over all the things we could be doing.
But not all the flowers should go in the vase.
Not all the words should go in that story.
And you can’t say yes to every good thing.
So cut those darlings and see what grows.
(Or “pinch” in this case, which sounds so much less violent!)