I was looking for something in my journal and came across this flash of an entry. It was inspiring, even though I only wrote it two months ago.
I wrote today. It was draining. I have been plugging along, giving the thing a once over with an ear for all my notes, and today I hit the beginning of the end. Those holes that need filling, or those places that are in major need of upheaval. Actually, I hit it yesterday, maybe even the day before. It took me a while of dancing around it to figure out what to actually do with it. I am proud to announce, that the scene is complete. I eviscerated it, shook it upside down, and drug its essence out, AND I placed it firmly into the proper placement within the story. AND… It surprised me. I plugged and I plodded, I second and third guessed, and then it flopped out like a fish in a locker. The meat. The potatoes. What the scene had hidden in store for my story. Nice.
I feel like I’m playing up this particular epiphany a bit much. It was only one little scene, and in the grand scheme of things, the novel has not been drastically improved by my late July revisions, but it is exciting when things come together, even the little things, even one step at a time. And, to be perfectly truthful, these subtle shifts I have been concocting ARE making a difference. I can feel the thing taking shape. Taking a better shape. Falling into place. Settling into its own life. It is a slow and painful process, but it is happening.
Possibly the completion of this scene is so monumental because it required the death of a darling. The scene that it once was was precious. It held on. I held on. At the outset, I wanted to just move it to a home later on, where it would fit chronologically. But really, it did not belong anywhere. The ideas were sound, and the writing was okay. There were parts that I drooled over, but it was an early write – there were also parts that made me look like a drooler. I tinkered and played, and it soon became clear that this scene, as written, was no longer a part of my novel. These thoughts, these experiences, they were not really who my character was. They were me, and not him. And over the past few days, I dissected that bugger, only keeping the barest bones, only clinging to the brightest turns of phrase and the truest glimpses of my true character.
The scene will probably face another thirteen edits. It is certainly filled with some amateur klunkers and a whole new breed of darling, but today I killed the darling, and my story breathes easier for it.
Darlings pop up in our work all the time. As a writer, as an artist of any sort, we get attached to the things of our creation. A friend who once taught my kids in a drawing class used to remind them on a weekly basis to not let things get too Precious.
Be proud. Enjoy the process, and the product, but don’t become that artist who has to hack a hole through the art to get into their own bathroom. We can’t keep everything.
Strike that. We shouldn’t keep everything. In this digital age, as a writer, I really, truly could keep every single word I have written. It is possible. It is tempting. I have sat up at night devising ways to do this very thing. The best organizational methods to employ. Filing systems. Backup plans. Indexing mechanisms. When I started thinking about keeping the 85 pieces I recently wrote on tutoring, I knew I was entertaining a less-than-lucid dream.
It is good to let things go out into the world without you as their chaperone, to destruction, to honor, to the unknown. It is good to recognize that the product is never the be-all and end-all. The process was so vital. You can keep forever the lessons learned, even when you throw the product to the curb.
It appears – though I now have no recollection of it – that I killed a darling this July.
I can always talk the good talk about killing my darlings, but when it comes down to pulling the trigger, I get squeamish. Don’t underestimate the joy I took upon reading this sterling entry. Not only is it possible, but I did it, and I didn’t die. In fact, my novel is the stronger for it.
And today was a great day for that reminder, as I run a rough word count on my unfinished YA manuscript and acknowledge that my 130K words will most certainly swell to 16oK by the time this thing comes to fruition. That means, according to all sage advice on acceptable novel lengths, that I will be staring down a novel that needs to cut exactly half of its bulk out before it gets queried. There are some serious darlings in there somewhere.
So this week I want to share the joy of darling hunting. Don your camo if you must, but search those buggers out and take ’em down before they drown you.
‘Til next time,