Friday, January 20, 2012

On Killing your Darlings & Traveling through Time and Space

Time flies, dunnit?

I've said before that I am an inconstant blogger, and I certainly won't take it back now. I hope you're all well out there. And I hope you've shaken hands with 2012 and found her to be charming.

I'm writing today on a subject I have recently had lots of first-hand experience with. It's the old revision tactic scientifically dubbed "killing your darlings." Familiar with it?

Given my druthers, I would always choose to edit like this:

Happy. Easy. Without any pain to myself or the manuscript. Just get rid of those dead leaves and weak sentences, and then I'm good to go. But it seems to me that the more I want to edit with the little pruning shears, the more I need to face the possibility that THIS is what really needs to happen:

I've recently been doing a lot of chainsawing. Consequently, I've killed a lot of darlings. (If you're foggy on this approach, follow this link.) I've been working on a YA fantasy novel for just over a year now, and after an autumn of garnering feedback from betas who read the draft, I found myself with a lot of ideas of ways to improve the book, but no real conviction about which way was the right one. And so, after a week or so of hideous panic, I made the decision to scrap the first third of the book and rewrite it from an entirely different point.

It felt like a setback, but I discovered right away that it was the right decision. Not because it allowed the book to begin in a more compelling and logical place (although it did do that), but because it loosened my death-grip on the petty things I had grown to love about the manuscript.

I don't know about you, but I love words. I love the way they interact with one another, like they're doing some kind of complicated dance on paper. Like most writers, I love to shape them into sentences and paragraphs and pages pregnant with meaning, and then sit back to watch them glitter. But too often I get attached, and it can take a chainsaw to separate me from a bit of prose I really like--even if the story would be better off without it. And that, I think, is what chainsaw editing is good for. It reminds you that your love for one darling may be choking the whole work. And once you learn to let go of one of the little things you're clinging to, you discover that it's much easier to let go of the next one.

And eventually, who knows? You may even find yourself in possession of that elusive lens we call Objectivity, and look at your work as a reader might.

On an unrelated note, I need to go public with some news: I have fallen in love with the Doctor.

I've resisted and resisted his invisible pull for years now, but about a week ago I finally gave in and started watching. In that brief time I have fallen head over heels, first for the Ninth Doctor, and now for the Tenth. (I am so immersed that I actually thought the whir of the push-vacuum at work was the sound of the TARDIS engine.) It's a glorious thing to find an untapped well of Nerddom simply waiting for you, don't you think? But oh, my poor, poor roommate... And I still have four and a half seasons to go!

So today's questions: How do you manage to look objectively at your work? Does it take chainsaws and darling-killing? And if you are afflicted, how do you manage to overcome Doctor Who Mania enough to live a normal life?


  1. I am pretty good at lopping off whole chunks of manuscript and rewriting them from scratch, just to see if it works better. What I need to work on is my ability to refine. Huge changes are actually easier for me than tons of tweaks.

    And as for the Dr, I used to watch the old BBC show with my dad on PBS, but I think it's about time to start hanging out with this new Dr, too.

  2. Lily, isn't it funny how we all have such different strengths and weaknesses? It's kind of nice. :) And yes, I think you'd better meet the new Doctor. He's definitely not one to miss!

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