Friday, March 2, 2007

Strangle Your Darlings... Slowly

51,500 (not every day is a good one)

Murder your darlings. We've all heard the advice, but oh, nobody told us how very hard it can be. They are, after all, our darlings.

I'd say I'm a confident writer,but it's an odd kind of confidence. I can be as insecure as the next guy day to day, but I have enormous faith that I will get better with practice. When I look at my first (and now thankfully out-of-print) book, I can see it's true. I write better than that in my sleep...

And as you might have gathered from other blog entries, I'm not of the Dean Koontz/Kurt Vonnegut/Tom Robbins stripe. I don't do multiple drafts of each page as I go, until that page shines and sparkles like the gem that it is. I sketch in my first drafts, loose lines that gradually solidify, then passes and new drafts until the lines are clean.
But sometimes a wildly wrong line needs to go. It just doesn't fit in with the rest of the picture. But, even when I know it's got to go, I look at it and think, "But it's soooo pretty..." It's hard to cut a scene or exchange or bit of description that really doesn't belong when it's well-written.

It's just a silly bit of insecurity way down at the heart of it. I wrote my darlings, and I'll write some more. In fact, every damn thing I write should be well-written. That's what I'm trying to do, after all. But we've all seen it: some of what we write is just a little... better. And those are always the bits we don't really know where they came from.

But knowing all this doesn't make the cutting any easier.

What I do is, rather than the mercy-killing of a straight razor to the carotid, I lock my darlings in a cupboard and wait for the thumping to stop.

That is to say, when something has to go and I'm still in first-pass stage, I stick it in a side file where I can retrieve it later. You know, just in case it turns out to be a mistake. I'm not sure I ever have, but I could. My latest (Poison Door: shopping at major US publishers right now!) is 90,ooo words long, but those cupboards contain 40,000 words. That's one heck of a lot of tiny fists pounding at those doors. I haven't gone back for any of them.

Leaving the possibility of opening that door makes those cuts less painful.


Charles Gramlich said...

I keep all my cuts too. And I actually have used bits and pieces from that file later in works. Although often it's more the events than the prose itself that gets used. Plus, it's just interesting to see the nature of what gets cut.

Steve Malley said...

Every time I go back to 'salvage' some old stuff, I'm embarrassed by how much better I can do it now.

Like you say, the events may show up elsewhere, but the prose usually goes.