Saturday, August 21, 2010

Killing Your Darlings

Supposedly it was William Faulkner who first coined the phrase “kill your darlings”.  It is a vivid image, one designed to convey the emotional intensity that occurs while editing your work. 

Most first drafts suck.  Buried in the trash are the occasional gems.   Sentences and paragraphs that the writer loves.  Turns of phrases, character moments, little jokes and lushly written imagery.

But when writing turns to editing, nothing is safe or sacred.  Sentences that sparkle are the ones you want to save.  But sometime they just don’t fit.  They slow a scene down, or make no sense without including garbage you need to eliminate.

Inevitably, a good editor must delete sentences they love, paragraph they adore, and even characters they desperately want to keep.

The first time this happens is traumatic.   For me, my third chapter is the one which felt like a knife fight.  To this day if I need to make major modifications to something, I say to myself, “well, it can’t be as bad as when I edited chapter three”.  So far that remains a true statement.

I sometimes save parts of scenes, ones I like most, but which simply must go.  I copy them out and put them somewhere where I can find them.  The idea is that, someday, I may want to mine those scenes for ideas or phrases. 

The truth is I almost never look at those saved excerpts again.  More and more, I rewrite scenes from scratch, deleting whole pages of existing material.  What remains of the original text is worked into new material as appropriate.   

The result is better scenes, better chapters, and a stronger work. 

Yes there will be future edits, and more darlings will no doubt die.   But the result is a story I believe is objectively better.   It is worth a few (hundred? thousand?) deleted sentences to achieve that goal.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

When Last We Met

On Wednesday, August 11, 2010, the Magic City Writers met and reviewed my fifth chapter entitled Through Persuasion and Force,….    

The meeting was small  again.  Kathryn, Lindy, and myself.  Nicole was unable to attend, as was our hoped for new member Emily.   

And now onto the food.

Let’s Torture Alex by Mentioning What We Ate

Since we were meeting at 6 pm, we ate dinner before the meeting.  We went for a low key meal.   Kathryn picked up some breaded chicken tenders at Publix, garlic mashed potatoes, and garlic cheese toast.  For snacks we had some crackers with a nutty flavor. 

An Now What We Did

I had rewritten Through Persuasion and Force,… from scratch and was feeling pretty proud of it.   Normally this would be a sign of impending doom, an invitation for an ego bruising recitation of what was wrong with the chapter. 

This time, it turns out I had some reason to feel proud.  The chapter was the longest I had ever submitted, but took far less time to review than my previous submissions.   The entire meeting lasted less than an hour and half, whereas normally it takes us four hours (or more) to go over a work in detail.

It was agreed that this was the best chapter I had written to date.  Yes, there were flaws to be addressed, but not nearly as many or as severe as my earlier attempts. 

Without going into details, I was advised by Kathryn and Lindy to fix the problems they pointed out, then not edit this chapter again.  It can be considered complete.

This is a personal milestone.  Never before have I received so positive a review.

The Remains of The Day

Afterwards I retired to write this post, while the others went their separate ways.   Lindy had places to go, and Kathryn needed to finish working on her submission for next time.

Coming Attractions

We tentatively set the date for the next meeting to be Wednesday August 25th at 6:00 pm.  Again the plan is to eat dinner first, followed by reviewing Kathryn’s submission.

Until my next post, take care and have fun.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Exercising Your Writing Habits

I had cause to think about exercising.  Thoughts that led to some insights about writing. 

When I began exercising a few months back it was hard.  I often left the gym sore and winded.  But, with some proper guidance from my physical therapist and a personal trainer, I got stronger and developed some endurance.  

These days when I leave the gym, I still feel the workout, but I feel pretty good too.  Doing the exercises makes me feel physically better.   What was once a chore, planning and going to the gym, turned into a pleasurable routine.

As I considered this, I was struck by a similar shift in my feelings toward writing over the last few years.   

Once Upon A Time…

A few years ago I labored at writing in a sporadic fashion.  Writing was a chore I often had to force myself to do. 

I had ideas I liked, ideas I turned into putrid prose.   In short, I sucked.  I knew I sucked, but had no idea how to identify or correct my many problems. 

Then I got serious and began exercising my writing muscles more regularly.  I sought help from other writers who  made me see not only how truly bad my writing was, but also how to make it better.

And somewhere along the way, writing stopped being a chore.  Writing stopped being something I did instead of having fun.  My skills improved, and as they did so did my sense of accomplishment.

To those who want to write, but find it a chore

Writing gets easier…if you work at it steadily. 

It is discouraging to labor for hours with the result being dreck best discarded.   But skills improve.  Mistakes are corrected, and become easier to avoid.  The rewrites you once dreaded, you  begin to relish.   The edits become cleaner and less work is needed each time through. 

The quality of first drafts goes up, and the number of edits required before something is acceptable begins to drop.   In time writing becomes fun. 

And that is when you really begin to tell your story in a way you like, in the way it deserves to be told.