Friday, June 21, 2019

Kill 'Em. Then Bury 'Em.

by Abir

"Kill your darlings" is classic writing advice. What do you do with the bodies afterwards?

It’s never easy, taking a hatchet to your prose. You’ve spent hours, days, weeks crafting these wonderful words, and then someone: an editor, a first-reader, or often just that little voice in your head, tells you that they’ve got to go: that no one needs quite so much detail about the inner workings of a carburettor, or the Calcutta sewer system, or the inside of a grand piano. That you need to sacrifice them on the altar of pace, or relevance, or some other minor deity of writing. And so you think about it, reticent at first – after all these are fine words, they deserve to be shared with the world - but then, finally and with a heavy heart, you pick up that red pen or hover over the delete key.

Instead of deleting them, though, you have an idea. 

‘Maybe I can use these in the future? Surely the world deserves to read them? With a bit of judicious editing, maybe they could come back into my next magnum opus.’

And so you do it. You cut the words and place them in a new document, called ‘Darlings’, because you think that’s clever, and you save the file somewhere in the darkness of your hard drive and backed up to the nothingness of ‘the Cloud’,whose actual physical dimensions and geographical location you’re still not really sure of, in the knowledge that one day, you’ll reopen it and those wonderful words will once again see daylight and taste fresh air, as beautiful then as the day you banished them to their folder.

But here’s the thing. The weeks and months pass. You write something new, then something else, and all the time your writing is improving. Then comes that happy day when you’re in the middle of book six or ten: the victim’s just been crushed under the weight of his own hubris and a grand piano, and you think, ‘Wait! Didn’t I once cut a page of amazing paragraphs on the inner workings of a Steinway?’You remember the words being pretty damn great (and a page of great paragraphs is a bonus five hundred extra words towards your daily word count. You might be able to knock off early today!), so you open the file marked Darlings and dig out the bit about the guts of a grand piano and you read them.

And. They’re. Rubbish.

The fact is, you’ve moved on. Your style’s evolved and your writing has improved. What seemed great a few years ago, now seems staid, possibly hackneyed. And remember there was a reason someone told you to cut them in the first place. Maybe it was clunky, or maybe it was just extraneous. Either way, you can now write a far better paragraph of what went through your victim’s head as his hopes, dreams and body were crushed by a one tonne piano than you did two years back. 

So do that. 

Write it new. Write it fresh. You won’t regret it. Because the thing about your darlings is they were probably never really darlings to begin with. If they were, you’d have shown them off to the world.

So my advice:

Kill your darlings, then bury them in the garden and move on. 
You’ll write something better.


Susan C Shea said...

I was laughing and nodding my head all the way through - such a witty and true take on the question. I might ask to borrow with attribution for a conference I'm teaching at this summer.

Abir said...

Hi Susan!

Of course you can borrow it! Take what you need!