tl;dr; It recently occurred to me that I don't have a good smoke test for identifying those passages we might call "darlings". It can be hard enough to cull even the obvious darlings, but it can be another problem entirely to recognize them in the crowd.
What techniques can someone use to identify problem passages in order to give them the proper treatment?
I was contemplating a future conversation with an acquaintance where I attempt to convince him that his song lyrics reuse played-out alcohol motifs way too frequently. In addition to these, there are other passages that could benefit from small changes that (opinion alert #1!) I believe will resonate better with most listeners.
One listener in particular is the band's drummer, and my connection to this acquaintance, who kept telling me that he wanted to cut a song from their set because he found one particular lyric to be overly "cheesy", of all things. He couldn't not hear it, and he hates being on stage with it. After I reflected on this complaint, I started to notice the frequency of lyrics about beer, etc. This led to me imagining this conversation. Anticipating things, I worked out a handful of replacement lines that (opinion alert #2!) still fit the lyrical context of the tune, feel less cliché, and in some cases even fit the singing cadence better.
Aside: I've been in a lot of bands, written tons of music‒several albums worth‒and am definitely approaching this with more experience and at least some kind of a philosophy.
I would expect this to be a weird conversation that's more likely to end in failure. Once upon a time I was the target of such an ambush, myself, where an acquaintance told me something very similar: He thought I had a cool song, but one line ruined it, and he suggested I change the lyrics. At the time I told him why I used that line, like "why" really mattered to a befuddled audience with no access to the lyricist. Eventually, almost 20-years later, I reconsidered that advice, though, and made an attempt to fix the song. Guess what? It made it a better song! My replacement lyrics even worked better in the lyrical context, too. I ended up re-recording it, and while I like the current version of this song much better, I regret not taking that advice sooner. I also regret how that guy isn't aware that he (eventually) succeeded in convincing me.
So‒if I do end up having this conversation‒one of my goals is to approach gracefully, but effectively enough that whatever the outcome is, it somehow helps my acquaintance to write songs with an improved philosophy influencing his lyrics.
But none of that is really the point. This whole imagined scenario led me to a different question associated with the conventional wisdom of "kill your darlings". Specifically this: How does one identify their own darlings in the first place?
Looking back on the time where I was the target of similar criticism, I realize now that I defended one of my "darlings", rather than identify it thanks to some constructive criticism and slay it. I anticipate my acquaintance will likely defend his darlings, too. But, then I became irritated with myself when I wondered how many of my own darlings have managed to duck under the radar of awareness and continue to hang around and just ..stink. How can you fix a problem you're unaware of? How can someone identify their own darlings as a matter of practiced craftsmanship?