Killing your darlings in 5 easy steps

The often quoted lines from Stephen King and William Faulkner tell us to “kill your darlings”. 

For verse novels, this is especially true, because, well, we might have a lot of darlings—those beautiful turns of phrases, a stanza that is just so poignant, a simile that does what no other writer has done before. BUT does it move the story forward?

A verse novel is always a story first, and by story I mean an emotional journey embarked on by reader and the protagonist. Not the author. Never the author. 

Darlings can be the beautiful stanza that don’t serve the story, but they can also be the pieces of you, the author, intruding into the journey of reader and protagonist.

 

How do we kill our darlings —the beautiful writing and the pieces of ourselves?

1. Find an accomplice. 

Have a critique partner or beta reader help you. Your darlings are not darlings to somebody else. When a beta reader says something like “the story slowed down for me here” or “I was pulled out of the story here”, that may be a sign that you the author have intruded too much in the story. 

2. Interrogate yourself.

Read your favorite lines critically. Why are they your favorite lines. Be honest. Do they serve the story? Do they propel the reader and the protagonist forward?

3. Kill more than you want to.

Especially in early drafts. Create a system that allows you to cut liberally out of your work, and paste and save the cut content in a different document. It’ll feel less painful to cut and paste your darlings elsewhere.

Delete if you are brave enough to do so and live with no regrets.

4. Plan your next move.

Read through the now hacked apart draft quickly, as a reader not an author. Note the gaps that now appear in the story, the holes to fill. Does the story flow better? Where did the story make you feel? Where did the story fall flat?

5. Stay confident.

Believe in your own writing ability. Banish the critic. Know that you are skilled and talented enough to write those beautiful and poignant lines again, but this time with purpose, meaning, and intention in moving the story forward.

Privilege & Writing: time, space, and focus of mind

aroomofonesown

I read A room of one’s own the summer of 2003. I swear I did. Read every single word, turned every single page, until the novel was over. Was it even a novel? (According to wikipedia, no it was not).

I remember none of it. 

Not because I read it nearly fifteen years ago. But because sometimes I read things because I think I should. Because it’s important. Because it would make me look smart, if only I could remember the details of whatever I read. 

I can read an entire book and not actually read it. I can read each word and not absorb what words mean, strung together in sentences and paragraphs, in a collection that makes a novel. As a reader, as an author, I feel like this is some sort of confession. A dark secret that we shouldn’t actually admit that it is possible to read and not read. I didn’t even set out to write the blog post about reading habits. I wanted to write about the notion of “a room of one’s own” without truly feeling like I have actually even read the book. Have I? What qualifies as reading?

So, now that we are on the same page that I most likely have not actually read A room of one’s own, let me attempt to tell you what I think about the notion of “a room of one’s own”. *I know* I see what I’m doing here too. 

The space to create, the distance from reality, the freedom to create—as female, as person of color, as person of means, as luxury, as privilege.

Having a room of one’s own to write and create is such a f*ing privilege. I know this. 

I am one who needs a state of silence to get to that place where immersion into character, time, place, feeling happens. My neighbor’s radio? A total distraction. Instrumental background music? A killer of creativity. The low rumble of the dryer tumbling downstairs? Possibly okay. Better with the door closed. All doors closed.

To command such a time, and place, and silence is a luxury and privilege—unacknowledged privilege.

Maybe you can write with four roommates binge watching House of Cards outside your bedroom door. Maybe you can write for the twenty minutes between putting your kids to bed and putting yourself to bed. But whatever the state we command that enables us to write, whatever the state we garnish—we are so lucky. To find the time, and place, and focus of mind to be able to write—this is privilege.

What happens after you land a book deal?

OMG. A book deal. The biggest f*ing thing to ever happen. So incredible that I wrote this in an e-mail to my closest friends:

“I’ve always wanted to be able to have this news be the most exciting news I share with all of you ever…as opposed to telling you all I got engaged, or something.”

Because landing a book deal is a huge accomplishment. I mean the hours, the years, the number of “drawer novels” that will never see the light of day. It’s all part of the process, part of the craft. Not to mention the shear competitiveness of the market.  And as was aptly put in this 2016 HuffPo article by Natalie Brooke, “It is 2016 and being popped the question is still more celebrated than academic and professional pursuits of women.” 

Thus, IMO landing a book deal is a big f*ing deal, even bigger than some of our other celebrated milestones in life.

But when the confetti showers come to an end, and the grass looks the same color of green as it always has, reality settles in and you realize all the internet forums you’ve scoured for advice on querying and writing that perfect twitter pitch that you never ended up writing, aren’t going to help you now.

Join me here as I scour the web, navigate my way through a debut, and reveal what I see on the other side of the publishing curtain.