Not Much of a Finisher



I, like you, have filled notebGirl Doing Flip on Beachooks, journals, composition books, napkins, and scraps of paper with a lot of crap, a lot of dripping flowery crap. Interspersed with efforts at capturing data: “Write the facts down,” people would intone—my grandmother, my journalism teacher—”Just write the facts down.” Eventually, I got good at writing my truth down. Not the fact writing I learned in the corporate heartland, but that training taught me to go for the jugular of my own shit. Don’t overstate it. The truth is good enough.

A lot of yearning, questioning, challenges. I got a lot better at getting the hell out of the way of my pen and letting the words come. And I got one hell of a lot better at editing the story. Cutting shit. Yeah, killing my darlings.

One day, I allowed myself to edit a piece so much I called it finished. Then I did it again. I finished another one. Another story, In all of its complete imperfection. Because nothing is perfect. I bet Tolstoy, Atwood and Diaz all sat back and said, “I know there’s more; I could do this forever… but I’m stopping here. Time to let it go.”

But not before a damned good working over 20 times.

Then guess what I did? I kept writing. My friend, Beth, told me she got rejected 81 times before her first piece was accepted. 81 times. That’s a lot of rejection. Since then, she’s had multiple short stories accepted at the same major journals that rejected her words, and two books published. That’s because she kept writing and submitting.

I’ve been submitting for two years now and, only in the space of the last month, two pieces got picked up.

It’s like fishing with yummy bait, and the big fucking fish are right there, but they have a lot of food. Yours is in the mix and eventually, BAM! Snapped up. And BAM! Again. ‘Cause you just get where to place it (maybe after a few misguided efforts), and you have faith—well, a shrugging off of things. You let those pieces go.

Put ‘em out there. Do the work, and put ‘em out there.

A bit more faith in yourself is required to survive regardless—because this path is your path. It might not take you where you expect, but you are on the path, and God damn it, start walking! When you do pause, feel that doubt crawl! Cry, be confused, sad, and angry. Get to know these feelings, and keep on writing.

Find your people. You need your creative tribe. They may not be writers (although it helps if they are), but they’re willing to support you in that wordless, holding space kind of way.

Pick them carefully. Notice when it feels wrong. Also, notice when it’s your own critic warning you away. Don’t trust every voice you hear, in your head or outside it, trying to sway you. Pick the ones that come from a place of the purest love you can tap into.

Keep writing.

A bit more faith, which I don’t particularly subscribe to (I’m more of a “notice how things are and take another step” person). But, for this, I can’t think of a better word: a little self-trust leads to clarity. Presumption to put your bait in with the rest, because most of it is no better than yours. And yours has a voice, a message, a grit to it that’s just going to work for someone. A lot of someones if you’re tapping into truth.

Photo Credit: New Old Stock (Flips in Sidney)

Killing Your Darlings

Vintage photo man on old-fashioned motorcycle in desertYou’ve heard the phrase everywhere: in how-to books, at conferences, and from many notable authors throughout the years. ‘Kill your darlings’ is widespread writing advice because it’s good writing advice. But, if you’re like me, it’s also one of the hardest pieces of advice to follow. We’re told to write from a place of passion, to give it our all—and then we’re expected to go at our work with the delete button?!

The answer to that is, of course: yes. Unless you’re among the minuscule percentage of writers who never want their work to see the light of day, you’re writing for a reader. And readers can’t read your work if they’re stumbling over words, confused by phrasing or distracted by excessive simile use.

But, for all the people who preach why you should kill your darlings, none of them explain how. They are darling, after all (and not everyone can be as cruel as George R. R. Martin). I say, instead of deleting them out of cyberspace, relocate them.

Whether your go-to program is Microsoft Word, Pages, or a writing program like Scrivener, start a document meant solely for all of your darlings (I call mine, ‘Stuff I Might Use’). When a critique group member, beta reader, or even yourself (upon second or third or fourth reading), sees a problem, a ‘darling’ in your lovely writing, copy and paste that darling into that document.

Just because you have three-too-many similes in one chapter doesn’t mean you can’t recycle those into a future chapter or, for that matter, into a future project. But chances are, eventually, you’ll forget about that heart-wrenching metaphor from page forty-five that pulls the reader out of the moment, or that detailed description of light reflecting off the floorboards which contradicts your character perspective.

The more you practice writing, the more drafts you revise, and the more books and writing advice you read, the easier it’ll be to recognize and eliminate the parts of your writing that aren’t working. I barely flinch anymore when my critique group suggests I cut out a sentence, paragraph, or even an entire chapter.

That’s because killed darlings aren’t wasted words. They are vital to the writing process. Ideas build upon one another. You can’t get from point A to point C without passing through point B first. And if you hold on too dearly to point B, you’ll never progress to point C.

So the next time someone tells you to ‘kill your darlings,’ rest assured that you can always resurrect them. But you might be surprised where all the ‘killing’ takes you!

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