Kill Your Darlings

As a writer, one of the hardest lessons I had to learn was that not everything should be written.

Normally, this kind of talk is reserved for subjects that the audience gained over time would not enjoy the work. This is understandable when it comes to making enough money to not be writing stories on the back of food wrappers in the middle of a ditch in Oregon. However, this problem is a thing that happens to even the best in existence.

See, writers are a strange crop of people. Unlike artists or musicians, we are forced to use words to convey the things we feel inside. Musicians can get away with “strange sounds” because it is a medium that already uses tools that are somewhat universal. Artists, as a whole, can get away with abstract works because it is a visual medium. This is not to say that they are cheaters. Lord no, I am not saying that. It’s just that writers have to learn to not only master their own language, but the ability to understand how people would possibly understand the work they produce. One could string together nonsense and attempt to sell it, but it would just be that. An attempt to sell nonsense. Thus we have to start “killing our darlings.”

This is a phrase that Stephen King used in his book On Writing. In a nutshell, he describes that the need to cut and cull some of our favorite scenes or bits of dialogue could be the very thing that saves the work. Readers might see this as simple editing, but when you’re pouring your soul and sanity onto the page, it can be difficult. Even worse is killing off a story before it is even written.

The problem with having an idea is that it needs to go through a simple test. Louis C.K brought this up in one of his interviews, saying that everything needs to go through the test of holding up. Everyone has a great idea but the question that will always kill it will be “Does it write?”

A majority of the time, the answer to that is no.

I have spent the better part of six years attempting to put together a novel. I wrote one, as a test, that only three people have actually read. While the feedback I received had been extremely positive, the problem that I had was that it contained too much raw emotion. I wrote that novel in the middle of some intense therapy and was in the process of a total make-over of my mental make up. The idea that one who has “gone through some stuff” makes a good writer is a misnomer. There are people out there that have gone through horrifying lives that would put mine to shame, but that does not make them an automatic best-seller. It is how you string the words together that becomes important.

Last year, I took my red ax to the story and began to chop away at it. The foundation was solid, but it needed a total rewrite. In that attempt, I had to throw the entire thing away. I kept the concepts but threw the rest away. Despite my needless shame of that story, it was difficult to do. I was forced to kill something that was essentially ready to be sent out for a third edit. I had a finished novel in my hands.

But I knew that it wouldn’t work out there.

I have decided to write these things because people seem to misunderstand how the writing process actually works as a whole. It’s not all pipe smoke and musing at the setting sun. Writing is an actual job that has stress attached to it. Some days, I love it. Other days, I wonder if I’m as good as everyone says I am. It is more than just throwing words on a page and shoving it out the door. If done correctly, a writer not only lets you inside of his skull, but she is also letting you into their heart.

Subjects like this can be dull or even depressing. I actually find it to be…not cathartic. It’s just that when I look around and see people saying that writing is easy, I get frustrated. People look at sculptures and orchestras, wondering how these people have such a talent! But a writer? “Anyone can be a writer.” If anyone can be a writer, why aren’t there more of them?

So, here we are. I’m in the sixth pass of getting my plot points together and I’ve still not found satisfaction in it. The bones still have spurs in them. But I hope that when I finally start putting pen to paper, the killing field will have less dead on it.


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