Wednesday, November 30, 2011


I killed a darling yesterday. I worked all day long (with a few breaks, of course), from about 10:00 to about 9:00, reworking the first third of the novel. As I went through the paper draft a few days ago, I drew brackets to mark spots where the writing was sound, but would probably have to be integrated elsewhere. I managed to preserve many of these spots, but discarded several others upon reflection. When I had to delete pieces like this from the electronic draft in order to make sense of what I was writing, I kept the physical page (otherwise I've put the prior-draft physical pages in the recycle bin to cut down on the clutter), so as to retain what I thought was good, ill-fitting work.

One page stuck around through the whole day's work, with a few sentences on it that I really didn't want to let go of. It was a darling. The Fictator mindset has helped me be more merciless with my darlings throughout my writing process in the last months, but this one just didn't want to go. I read it again and again, this little passage, and genuinely could not find a place for it in the sixty pages or so I edited today. So, finally, when I was setting aside the manuscript for the day and hitting play on Pride & Prejudice (I have a book to read before it's due on Friday, but I just couldn't look at any more words), I read it one last time, and then chucked it into the recycle bin. Goodbye, darling dear, I had to murder you.

I can't even express how useful the Fictator-hat has been in the course of all this. For the majority of my life I've been a reactionary, not wanting to let go of things that are past, whether old books, old pictures pulled out of magazines that used to be pasted on my wall, old knowledge and ways of life (it's why I learned how to can preserves), old slang. I value the past and its quirks and turns, and I believe we can always benefit from its existence, even if it's just learning something like the fact that teen-pop groups have been assembled by heartless record executives at least as far back as the sixties. At any rate, the same reactionary attitude always went for my writing - if it wasn't preserved exactly as it was first concocted, with changes only for grammar and awkwardness, its value was diminished.

Of course in writing this is foolishness. It's the way of editing to throw out reams of work and start all over, to tinker and alter until maybe what you have barely resembles what you started with. I had so much trouble with this until I began approaching my work as if it was mine, not something that had already been conjured up by the Muses in the Creativity Dimension and transmitted to me for transcription. Until I started thinking of myself as the Fictator, the person who has all the rights and powers to decide what will stay and what will go, I felt hampered and hostile about the editing process.

Now I'm much freer, and less afraid. Words are cheap, is the thing. A good paragraph is easy. There are a hundred ways I can write any given conversation. There's no guarantee that what I've thrown out won't end up being better than the newly-written stuff, but the old stuff doesn't have inherent value just because it was my first idea. This isn't the SATs; the first answer isn't always (likely) the right one. Besides, I save versions. Nothing is really lost.

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