Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Kill Your Darlings

For all the writers out there, I'd like to share a magic trick. When I started writing my first article for Lydia Magazine, my initial draft contained 2,014 words, and I needed to get that count down to between 600 and 900 words. Those letters were a wordy worry, for not only had I been too verbose with certain elements of my life (the first draft held more entries from my college years), but I was sure many of my main points about journaling were redundant and overemphasized.

There was a lot of work to accomplish!

My college experience taught me, among other things, to relish the editing process. As I sat down to write this post, I tried to pinpoint which class really taught me to love revision, and I cannot narrow it down out of my numerous favorite English classes. In Modern Grammar and Advanced Composition, I learned that once I reached a conclusion, I should probe deeper into the heart of my subject matter to search out new and better developed discoveries. In Creative Writing, I learned to journal about my stories, and gained a stronger grasp on who my characters were and how they would act. And I would be remiss if I did not mention my freshman year of high school, in which my mom helped me learn how to edit through extensive alteration of a novel I wrote.

Editing transformed from a necessary task into the heart of writing. I learned to bang out a quick first draft, and then unearth the real beauty in the edits. Yet when faced with 1,114 extra words and a need to convey much in a relatively short space, I found myself a bit nervous.

As I began my daunting task, I came across sentences and even entire paragraphs that I liked, but that I knew, deep down, were not in the least bit necessary to the thrust of the piece. To deal with these words, I created an overflow document, and began cutting and pasting superfluous components into this new document, thinking that if I ever needed them later, I could access them again.

I realized that I had stumbled onto a marvelous tool. When I cut and pasted, I tricked my writing brain into believing the words were still there, when in reality, I almost never accessed the overflow document again. (I did once, for my second Lydia piece, which will be up soon.) I had organically manufactured a way to deal with extraneous words which didn't make me feel like I was cutting out a piece of my heart.

William Faulkner, besides being famous for great works of literature, is remembered for stating: “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” He is so very right, and yet his advice is often hard to put into practice! Words and sentences crafted and loved feel like a part of my heart, and to kill them seems merciless. To cut and paste them, however, gives me a means to dole out mercy to those hapless words.

I doubt that I will ever use what is written in my overflow document again. Yet I will continue to use the mechanism of the document itself, and kill my darlings in order to create a more concise and compelling piece of writing.

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