Kill Your Darlings

Written by Rigby Celeste
Art by Bekka Mongeau

I come up with the right ideas far too late. I think up stronger essay topics as soon as my upload is complete. An old illustration reconfigures into a delicate composition as I scan the final draft. At times, solutions to storage problems from apartments I have moved out of will swim through my thoughts. I even mentally audition opening lines dedicated to kids I admired in grade school, now completely useless. Like a slice of life dramedy, I am the stumbling main character. How ironic I might finally find the resolution when the episode is already over! This is my burden, a tragic cycle of falling short. I am the failing clown.

I know my failure is necessary to grow. If I can conceptualize a better essay or illustration now, it’s usually the result of improvement since my last project. But why am I so attached to my last project? The grade is final and the paint has dried. I am right to reflect, but when I look at a mirror the light points back at me. Just as light bounces back from a mirror, my insight is not meant to permeate into past decisions I’ve made. I make my past too precious. Under my bed, buckling folders hold years worth of doodles since middle school. For the past ten years, I’ve told everyone I am making a game which I still have no development for. These ideas have become my identity. 

Every writing coach I’ve ever had would advise “cut, cut, cut! When in doubt, cut it out!”. No mentor was as radical as my screenwriting professor. “Kill your darlings!” She meant it as literal as was legal: murder the piece of your film that you loved the most. “In fact,” she says, “When students include their favorite line, it’s usually their worst.” Sure enough, as we read our classmates rough scripts, faux insights would stick out like sore thumbs. When we answered which was the strongest line, it would be in the place we least expect it. Students always think they know what their screenplays’ most memorable line will be. Yet, without fail, the collective favorite was unexpected. 

You will not know your most memorable line. When I entered college, I was a film student with some art experience. I thought I would make a hand-drawn, heartfelt animated show that would herald a revolution in children’s cartoons. I had a script and character designs and I even asked a friend to voice the lead. But it never came into fruition. I am graduating as a general art student with an interest in creative writing. I took my poetry class because I didn’t have enough credits in that semester; I picked up a non-fiction class because I loved poetry and didn’t want to try prose. I expect now to exit college writing freelance for various publications, but I really might not. I don’t know what my most memorable line will be. 

  I realize what my professors were pleading was not only a mechanical editing rule, but a radical philosophy. Whether it’s sentences, projects, or memories, nothing is so precious it should prevent building something better. The masters of drawing were not trying to create a masterpiece. Masterpieces happen at the end of years of practice, a process in repetition. In order to be a master, preciousness is to be eviscerated. To be precious about your ideas bleeds into the preciousness of lived moments. Sometimes reminiscing is a sign of stagnation. When I replay memories, I neglect the present. I don’t wake up and greet the sunlight, I ruminate on when the moon lighted my room. But in 12 hours the moon will be out again, and I bet I’d be disappointed that the sun went down and I didn’t enjoy the warmth when it was out. My life is not the drawings I could have made better. It’s not the grades I could improve, or the people I didn’t talk to enough. My life can only be what it is right now. How cold I feel in the room. The scent of onions and meat from my roommate’s lunch. The orange tabby lounging on my neighbor’s porch through the window. My life is now. Not precious, but certainly true. Like the masters of life drawing, all there is to do is to practice.