I read once that human nature compels us to acquire stuff; that we, as people, cannot be ourselves without having things. Some people’s things are odder than others; I, for instance, have three copies each of Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums.
My explanation is simple; either I’ve come into them by accident, or – in the case of Red Dragon – I keep forgetting I already have one.
(I’m afraid that one day, years from now, I’ll walk out of a library with a discarded copy of Red Dragon, only to realize with horror that there are fifty others just like it in my living room.)
At some point, we realize that our lives, and shelves, are filled with things we can do without. I have an empty root beer bottle on the long white desk in my apartment; I think I liked the design at first, but now, it just seems like part of the desk. Today, I put it in the recycling bin.
Writers, when in the throes of their craft, tend to be very focused. So much so, in fact, that we forget what is absolutely essential to the story – and what is just an empty root beer bottle. In the case of the latter, we risk forgetting why it was included, why it remains, and worst of all; we might forget that we can get rid of it.
Don’t think of it as “murdering your darlings”. Your ideas are not your children, or prize pets. Your ideas are things you’ve acquired. Not all of them are essential. Some are more useful, and thus, more worthy than others; keep those.
But if it’s a loose sentence, a bad page, a misguided character, or a discarded project, remember that you’ve collected quite a few of them – and if you don’t need to keep it, toss it out. You’ll need that space for something else…perhaps, another copy of Red Dragon.