Sometimes, in order to produce the best creative work you can, it means you need to prune ideas from a project.

People have a propensity to try and solve problems by adding more detail rather than removing, but when it comes to almost any creative work, whether it is artistic or business, you need to be willing to edit all of your ideas down to the core story you want to tell.

This can be especially challenging for people to do when they are actually proud of all the ideas which they have produced. For example in writing, the author may have a story with a whole host of interesting characters, each of whom could have their own backstory, journeys and arcs.

However, too many different characters or story elements (even if each of them could be interesting individually) may actually result in a worse overall story which is harder for the reader to care about.

So in order for any creative person to produce something which the audience will enjoy, then need to be willing to Kill their Darlings.

The origins of the phrase point to British writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who wrote in his 1916 book On the Art of Writing:

“If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.’”

Since then, the phrase has been repeated by many writers when asked for advice on their creative process, and how to become a better writer.

Stephen King had this to say in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

Now, this advice does not mean that an artist needs to kill all of their favourite ideas. Instead, it means that once all of the possible ideas have been put down in a first draft, you need to be willing to edit everything down if that is what is best for the story and the reader.

Sometimes, this could be pruning unnecessary words or entire paragraphs (even if you felt there was good stuff in there).

At other times, it might mean getting rid of or combining multiple secondary characters into one, so that more emphasis can be placed on the main themes and characters.

And at other times, it might mean going through the story objectively and seeing whether themes and characters should be this story at all, or if they would make more sense in their own separate piece of work.

All of this hard work makes it more likely that the artist can actually execute the core ideas to their fullest potential, and deliver the work to the world.

While this makes sense for creating art, it can be just as important for businesses as well.

Often, innovation teams fail at executing anything innovative because they are spread too thin.

They have previously generated a whole host of potential ideas through divergent thinking. Yet when it comes to having to prioritise through convergent thinking, they don’t feel comfortable letting any of the previous ideas go.

As a result, there may be zombie ideas which are not working, but are taking the resources away from the few good ideas which could flourish if they were given the support they need.

This is a where an innovation pipeline can be useful to help automate the process of pruning ideas, validating progress and ensuring there are enough resources for the ideas which survive.

Nick Skillicorn: I help teams and companies just like yours unleash the creativity and innovation potential that already exists in your people.

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of Ideatovalue.com and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.