How to follow the best writing advice, ever

February 12, 2021

Was there ever more difficult advice for a writer to follow, especially if they haven’t been a professional writer for a lifetime? And, even if, like me, you have been?

But it is, in fact, the best writing advice, ever.

When we work so hard on something, when we are so attached to our prose, the way we’ve expressed it, what we have expressed, we are reluctant to let it go. Yes, even when a writing coach recommends it.

If a professional writing coach suggests we jettison some of our pearls of wisdom it is often because they do not serve the story. We don’t see this, of course, because we LOVE what we wrote! Especially when it’s a first person essay, memoir or performance. Which is exactly what I write.

We hold it close because we believe it completely expresses our point. We hold it close because we do not see what the reader sees. We see as WRITERS. And that’s a completely different view.

I published my first piece when I was 16. Nearing 70, I haven’t stopped. I have been a professional writer, a career writer, a freelance writer and a writer for pleasure all my life. I’ve achieved a certain proficiency in personal essays, too. I am, I know, a very good writer. I got that way by being edited. So I feel pretty good about my skills.

And yet, if I am working on something for serious publication I ALWAYS engage an editor. Always. Because 50 years of writing experience tells me that I do not have an unbiased eye on my own work. Especially when it comes to my own story.

I look for an experienced editor who has worked on material like mine, who has taught and who has achieved their own literary success. Many people tout themselves as editors when maybe they have a self-published book and a blog and coach on the side. That’s not what I want.

These days I am writing a solo performance. My first. It’s partly autobiographical, but not entirely. I have never written a performance piece before and it has challenged my writing chops in ways I’d never imagined. I am in a workshop with some excellent writers and it’s led by a guy who has had successes bringing solo performances to the stage.

The feedback I get from my workshop teacher and others in the workshop writing their own performance pieces–as well as from bestie, who actually IS a playwright and holds two Masters’ in theatre (one in playwriting)–is that I am an effective story teller.

“And oh by the way, you need to cut this part of it.”

What??? But I LOVE that part! I think it’s IMPORTANT!

But is it?

When we write memoir for an audience we are like sculptors, carving our own piece of art from raw stone. The raw stone is everything that’s ever happened to us. What we are carving out though, is the REAL story and to do that we must eliminate the excess. The stuff an audience won’t find as riveting as we do. The pieces that do not guide the audience effectively through our story.

It is very difficult for us to identify that excess. We are too close to our own story. We may think it works. But really, it doesn’t. That’s a hard truth.

Now, I have to admit, I knew I would have to kill some of my little darlings before I signed on to this workshop and it did give me pause. I spoke to several other writers about coming to terms with my fears of killing my little darlings and concluded that I would always have my first draft, the draft I loved so much, in my files. I can read it any time I want. Without subjecting an audience to it.

And now, heading toward Week 4 of my class, on the recommendation of people who have clearer vision than mine, I have had to murder many of my little darlings. Oh, they’re not gone for good. They still exist, but in a file I call “Snips for Later.” Maybe I’ll find a way to use them later in the piece. Or in something else.

Or, maybe not at all.

Because, as I am discovering, once I snipped, I exposed the guts of the story, the meat of it. And as a result, my piece has taken on new life. It is stronger in ways I have been too close to recognize.

So, if you’re resisting killing your little darlings, I feel your pain. But you might want to think again. You don’t have to kill them for good. Just for right now. Trust that people more experienced than you are giving you their best counsel. And see what happens.

Because you’ll always have your draft.

And, as Rick told Ilsa: “We’ll always have Paris.”

24 comments on “How to follow the best writing advice, ever
  1. adela says:

    Listening to an editor can be HARD! Besides making me cry a little, doubt myself a lot, it’s also made me reflect and laugh a lot. (As in yes, she does seem a little preoccupied with her hair, no that’s not my intention.)

  2. Pam Wattenbarger says:

    Having written 3 cookbooks, I can agree it is hard to listen to the editor sometimes. There are times I am sure the recipes need that story or that tidbit, but after editing, they are always better.

  3. Alana says:

    I am not a professional writer but I have a sister in law who was an editor for a major suburban New York City newspaper for years (until she was laid off). A good editor is a must. I’ve read that Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman, was the original manuscript (or close to it) for what became the masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird. A great editor helped to shape one of the best books of the 20th century.

  4. Diane says:

    Oh, Carol, the little, perfect snippets that litter the cutting-room floor! But, as you say, they have been saved. For later or never, they have been saved. And my stories have emerged stronger. Oh, the pain!

  5. When you’re both a writer and an editor, the arguments you have with yourself can be fierce. You bargin….”Okay, you can have that sentence, but I’M KEEPING THE NEXT ONE. So don’t even ask.” You whine, “Pa-leeze that’s the funniest part of the whole chapter.” And you finally just close your eyes and hit delete. Great article.

  6. Laurie Stone says:

    Great advice. I couldn’t live without my writing workshops or my editor/husband Randy for every blog post. Many darlings have been killed as a result!

  7. Betty says:

    What a great piece. I think you need to compile your “snips for later” into some kind of outtake film where you sprinkle humor throughout. I bet everybody would love it.

    • Interesting that you’d say that because this is a fairly serious piece but i can’t keep humor out of it. If it is ever publicly produced, it would be in CA and you would HAVE to come!

  8. nikki Wayne says:

    Haha I could really relate to this. Even for my personal life. Lolz

  9. Gervin Khan says:

    It’s great to read this kind of writing which comes from an editor that definitely help the readers to know detail comprehension that we can learn from.

  10. Lynndee says:

    Reading this reminds me of the movie ‘Genius’ wherein the lead actors were both the writer and the editor. It was interesting to know how creating a book/novel works.

  11. Kathy says:

    This is some great advice. It isn’t always easy when it comes to writing. I get stuck a lot on writing sometimes.

  12. Mama Maggie's Kitchen says:

    I can definitely relate to this! It’s good to have someone give you advise for your writing. It’s never wrong to listen, too. Thank you for sharing this.

  13. Listening to the editor is very important. I have a husband and wife team and I am happy they are working together.

  14. Marysa says:

    I have never worked with an editor. I can see how it could be very conflicting! It is interesting to hear about your experience.

  15. Catalina says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience and your conclusion. It’s hard to remain objective when we are writing that’s why another point of view is everything!


    I’ve been a freelance writer for almost ten years. I cringe when I look at some of my first pieces that I wrote. It was pretty rough but I didn’t give up. Over the years, my writing has improved. One day I’ll hire an editor to proof my content. I’m just glad that I never gave up.

  17. Swathi says:

    I have a starting trouble in writing , once started writing I will get into flow and write. it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Follow Carol


Here you’ll find my blog, some of my essays, published writing, and my solo performances. There’s also a link to my Etsy shop for healing and grief tools offered through A Healing Spirit.


I love comments, so if something resonates with you in any way, don’t hesitate to leave a comment on my blog. Thank you for stopping by–oh, and why not subscribe so you don’t miss a single post?


Subscribe to my Blog

Receive notifications of my new blog posts directly to your email.