Kill Your Darlings

This post might sound very English major of me, so feel free to skip it if you’re not a writing nerd.

Still here?


Ok — so real talk: my all-time favorite novelist is William Faulkner. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve read As I Lay Dying, and both it and The Sound and the Fury are, for my money, two of the very finest pieces of American Literature ever written. Legend has it that Faulkner actually wrote As I Lay Dying while working the night shift at a local power plant. And in his “Introduction” to the 1932 Modern Library publication of Sanctuary, Faulkner famously claimed “. . . I wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks, without changing a word.”

Do I believe him?

Probably not. Writers are storytellers, after all.

But it’s not just a writer’s penchant for poetic license that causes my Spidey Sense to tingle on this claim. Since we’re talking writing, now feels like a good time to share this other snippet from the quotable William Faulkner:

Image result for kill your darlings faulkner

Top quality writing takes a ton of effort. Put another way: “writing is rewriting.” And coming from someone who now finds himself in the thick of the first stages of a lengthy manuscript editing process, I’ll be the first to tell you that killing your darlings is a BRUTAL but necessary hazard of the job.

Here’s a snapshot look at the first draft of my book manuscript, which I submitted to the folks at Dave Burgess Consulting in August.


FIFTY. SIX. THOUSAND. SEVEN HUNDRED. Words and change. With a quick bit of Googling as a frame of reference, that’s just about the length of other familiar works like:

  • 50,000 =========== NaNoWriMo Winners
  • 56,695 – As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner*
  • 56,787 – A Separate Peace – John Knowles

*(I realize this matters to absolutely no one, but I’m quietly geeking out that my submitted manuscript’s count was within 100 words of my all-time favorite novel. Totally unplanned, btw).

The target word count for a DBC book? Forty three thousand (give or take). Because print copies ship in standard sized boxes regardless of how many words they contain. So slimmer books = more copies per box, which means that your leaner and meaner volumes are easier to transport in bulk, and that much more likely to move.

If you’re keeping score at home, 43,000 words is more along the lines of:

  • 36,363 – The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
  • 46,118 – Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  • 47,094 – The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

TL, DR; this is a very extended way of extending my sincere apologies for the relative radio silence over the past few months. I’ve been killing some serious darlings.


Submitted the revised manuscript earlier this afternoon.

Here’s to the new year!

Author: John

John Meehan (@MeehanEDU) is an English teacher and school instructional coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, Virginia. He began his teaching career in 2010 as a career switcher through The New Teacher Project, after spending five years working in social media and event marketing. He is a 2017 ASCD Emerging Leader, and an alumnus of the 2016-2018 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. In 2016, he was named one of Arlington, Virginia’s “40 Under 40” by the Leadership Center for Excellence. He is a past presenter and regular attendee at educational conferences throughout the United States, including the annual conference for National Catholic Education Association, ASCD Empower19, and the Play Like a Champion Today: Character Education Through Sports summer conference at the University of Notre Dame. He’s an avid runner who’s completed more than three dozen marathons, half marathons, long-distance road relays, mud runs, and obstacle course races. John lives in Silver Spring, Maryland.

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