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Lasandra Bourque is a student. She grew up in Arlington, Virginia. She studies at University of Virginia and works as freelance writer. She has black belt in Judo. Also she is a professional musician.

Well that got your attention, didn’t it? It should have. It’s part of a William Faulkner quote; the full version being, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” No, this doesn’t mean you are to go on a mass murdering spree in order to get your creative juices flowing; it refers instead to the tendency in writing to become attached to a turn of phrase, piece of dialogue, or metaphor beyond all reason and in detriment to your work. It may seem foolish not to follow your instincts when you think something you’ve penned is particularly brilliant. It may infuriate you that those around you “don’t get it.” It may seem to be the best thing that your brain has ever produced, nay, that anyone’s brain has ever produced. It may. But it’s not. Trust me. Humbling? Yes. Hard truth? Also yes. The sooner you get it though, the better you’ll become.

Cut and edit your work ceaselessly. There’s no rule that says you can’t save these lines in a separate document, but if something’s not working for the whole essay, it’s gotta go. Your philosophy about a piece like this has got to be a lot like communism: the sacrifices of the individual will reap untold beneficence for the group. The slaughter of a darling here and there can strengthen your essay as a whole in ways you won’t always foresee.

Let me tell you the true story of a young Jean writing the essay that contributed to her entrance into Tisch School of the Arts, a very competitive program on which I had my teenage heart set. In said essay, I used a metaphor in which I compared brocoli to a “strangled amphibian on my plate.” At the time I thought this very cleverly conveyed my feelings of sorrow and fear within the story arc, but really it just made comical a serious turning point in my life. I couldn’t see it. I took myself too seriously, and my ego was too large and yet still too fragile to get the point when my very wise teacher told me the line had to be cut. Immediately. He told me it was awkward and weird and “took [him] out of the moment.”

Did I remove the offending line? Against all my wishes and judgement at the time, I did. And did I get into the program that admitted only 13 out of 500 applicants? I did that too. Was it because the beating heart of my darling was viciously snuffed out? I can’t say for sure, but since then, throughout my career as a writer, I’ve killed many a darling, and not only has the practice improved individual pieces, it’s given me a thicker skin and a keener eye, gifts unparalleled in the life of any artist.

So go on now, stab, shoot, bludgeon, hang, draw and quarter, strangle, mangle, and tangle with your most beloved linguistic snippets. If you can do that, you can do anything.

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