Breaking bad habits

West Coast Swing Online Grab Bag

Kill your Darlings

The phrase “kill your darlings” comes from William Faulkner, who used the saying to express his writing advice. This advice has been echoed by many world-class creative people. The point behind this advice is that writers tend to get too attached to their darling creations, and in order to make the piece work they must be willing to ruthlessly kill of their precious words for the sake of the story. This advice holds true in other creative domains; for instance, TV writer and director Joss Whedon explains that he struggled with constructing an episode of Angel until he finally axed the scene that motivated that episode in the first place; once he cut that scene, the rest of the story fit together like magic.

The lesson that lies underneath this advice is that creativity can be blocked by becoming attached to an idea that isn’t quite right. By cutting the elements that you are particularly attached to, you can create the mental space for better ideas to emerge. I personally experienced this phenomenon while writing my dissertation. Whenever I was stuck on a chapter, I would cut the paragraph that I thought was my best work in that chapter. Uncannily, that simple change suddenly made the chapter work—I either realized that I was approaching the chapter in the wrong way or suddenly discovered a different way to make the point that fit with the rest of the chapter.

For dancing, there are a number of ways that becoming attached to your darlings can block your creativity. If you are choreographing a routine and feel stuck, cutting your favorite move will often fix the problem. More often than not, the reason the choreography won’t come together is because the move that you love is preventing you from doing something else that would fit the music better. By cutting the move, you reopen the possibilities for the other sections of music and make it possible to find an even better set of movements.

If you are social dancing, your darlings are the movements you perform all the time. Try dancing a whole song without your favorite move or syncopation: if you love kick ball changes, axe them for an entire dance. By taking away your go-to option, you force yourself to come up with something new. This deliberate restriction actually enhances your creativity because it makes every opportunity for that movement into an open field of possibilities rather than a choice made by rote.

In short: if you love doing a move, take it out of your repertoire. You’ll be amazed at how much more creative you can be!

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