06/26/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Letting Go of Your Darlings

When completing any meaningful project, the last step is often to let go of the things that you are emotionally attached to. Alan Schaefer, the lead singer and acclaimed songwriter for Five Star Iris calls this "letting go of your darlings."


"When writing a song, there are parts that hold special meaning to you - the "darlings". Perhaps it was a single lyric that was your inspiration for the entire song, or a brief melody that stuck in your head and motivated you to write," Alan says. "But as the song is written, it evolves - the melody and lyrics often take on their own form and direction. You have to give the song the space and freedom to mature on its own. Inevitably, you often find that the "darlings" - the initial sparks for the song - just don't fit anymore. No matter how emotionally tied to them you are - eventually you have to let them go."

I went through a similar process recently with my new book, The Leap. I have been working on this project for the past four years, and in many ways it is full of "darlings." But I might have failed to notice them were it not for some direct comments from Timothy Ferriss, NYT Bestselling author of The 4-Hour Work Week. Tim had reviewed an advanced copy of the book, and while his general comments were extremely encouraging, he did point out a few specific paragraphs that just didn't seem to fit.

After a fresh review, I knew he was right. There was a piece of research that had originally been the cornerstone of an entire chapter, but which now seemed out of place. There was a personal story that was interesting and humorous, but did not add to the main point. There was an anecdote that seemed to reiterate a point that had already been sufficiently made.

After having read through the manuscript what seems like 100 times, each of these items held a personal meaning to me. Each in its own way was critical to the creation of the book, but none deserved to be part of the final product.

In the creative process, the ultimate goal is not complexity, but simple elegance. It is deletion, not addition, that signals closure.

When you think that a project is finally complete, take one last look at it. Analyzing it through fresh and impartial eyes may help you identify those once brilliant sparks that now linger as excess baggage.

This post was originally published at
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