Thursday, July 31, 2008

Slaying Darlings

That’s ominous-sounding, isn’t it? I first learned the term from Angela Ewell Hunt when I took her fiction-writing course at the first writers’ conference I attended in 2005. Since then, I’ve heard others talk about it in other terms, but since that was my intro to the idea, it’s the one that has stuck.

It sounds ominous, and it is. Everyone admits it is as “un-fun” as it sounds. It is not surprising that we authors have powerful and possessive feelings about the things we write. The stories we tell, the characters we create, and words we put on paper feel as if they are children we have birthed, and in a sense they are. We hurt when folks criticize them, we wince when others don’t understand our intent, and we bleed when an editor wants some of them CUT. That’s what is called, by this name and a few others, “slaying your darlings.”

As an author, you have to have a tough enough skin to endure all of the above, or you’ll never make it in the profession. You have to be willing to hear what others say about what you’ve written and to accept their words with grace. I’m told you have to learn to lick your wounds in private and then rise above them to make intelligent decisions about actions that may need to be taken. For most people, this is a cultivated skill, not something that comes naturally. And all of it is slaying your darlings.

So do I have the skill? Let’s just say I have developed a little more of the skill than I had years ago. Have I experienced slaying some of my darlings? You bet. And as long as I don’t throw in the towel on my writing efforts, I’ll have to do a lot more in the future. Even if you get published, you have reviews to face.

These thoughts are with me today because I’ve just figured out that by practicing some of the writing styles that seem to be mandatory for today’s readers, I have turned up with a result that I’m afraid is counter-productive. I may have to go back and pull most of those new sections that I wrote because they now make the story drag on too long.

Am I wailing about it? No. In fact, I’m not going to do anything about it right now. After thinking and praying, I’ve decided I’m going to go ahead and keep working forward in the story, continuing to look for where I can polish and make stronger. I’m going to keep in mind these conclusions but not do anything about them until I can talk to some experienced authors. That might happen in my local group, and if not, I’ll make it a goal at the conference in September.

Even if I end up not using those sections, the effort to write them will not have been in vain. For a writer, the important thing is that you write. Not everything has to be published or seen by others. For a writer, working with words is a reward of its own, and all of it helps you hone your craft.

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