Kill Your Darlings

Tuesday I was soaring high. In the morning, I had a conversation with myself in the car – if you’re a writer, you have a lot of conversations with yourself; there’s really no point in feeling embarrassed about it – after all, what is writing, if not a series of conversations with one’s self? At least, that’s the way it starts. First we tell ourselves the story, then we tell it to others. 

The conversation with myself in the car came on the heels of a satisfying writing session – one in which I finished off a scene describing a hot-headed plumber who threatens to cave in the skull of a man he believes stole a tool from him. The conversation between me and myself went something like this:

 “Did you see that? Did you see what we just did?”

 “Of course I saw it. I was there, remember? Change the Pandora station, would you? I hate this song.”

 “We were right there in the basement with those workmen. I could practically smell their b.o.!”

 “Yeah, it was riveting.”

 “Man, isn’t writing the best?”

 “Yep, it’s the best. Now, about that Pandora station…” 

That was Tuesday. Tuesday, I was soaring high. 

Then Wednesday. Wednesday I started another scene, and two paragraphs in, I was in the weeds. Truth told, I am still in the weeds. 

I’ve found that writing is mostly about seeing the story and then telling the truth about what you see. That scene about the pissed off plumber with homicidal ambitions – I could see it as if I were really seeing it. I could see it with eyes beyond eyes, and I’d like to think I did a solid job of telling the truth about it. 

Wednesday’s scene was more mundane. Two dudes having coffee, talking. For several pages, they’re talking. It’s now Saturday, and those poor saps are still sitting at that same table, sipping shitty coffee and getting nowhere with their unending banter. Like I said, I’m in the weeds man. 

Here’s the troubling part: I’m seeing this boring scene just as well as I saw the blood pumper before it, and to me, it’s not so boring. So why am I struggling? It’s because I know the scene won’t see the light of day; at least, most of it won’t. It’s going to be axed during second draft. Stephen King has a term for this. “Kill your darlings,” he says, “Kill your darlings.” 

So why don’t I kill this scene now? (I’ve come to call it “coffee with the fellas”.) Why go through the trouble of sitting in on their mundane palaver if I already know I’m the only one who will ever see it? Because I have no choice. This is the way of things, not only with writing, but in every worthwhile pursuit. We must first tell ourselves the story before we can give it to others. My description of the unpublishable scene is necessary for me to better understand the characters involved. 

I wonder how many noble endeavors screech to a halt because people find themselves in the weeds with their own created darlings. If you are such a one – if like me, you find yourself alone in the weeds, just you and your darlings – I encourage you to hang out there awhile. Play with those darlings, even love them a little. Never mind that you’ll have to kill them later. For now, they must live so you may learn something. Learn well, lest their sacrifice be made in vain. 

Okay, enough stalling for me. I gotta get those over-caffeinated jabber mouths to finish up their conversation.

 “Coming, darlings. Coming.”


16 replies »

    • I see what you did there. 😉
      What were the coffee drinkers talking about?
      – The slippery nature of time
      – The incipient pangs of strife in a young marriage
      – Ethiopia
      – The inevitable danger of resorting to drug dealing in an effort to overcome the challenges of poverty

      If you think all these disparate topics are excessive for a couple joes to discuss over joe, you understand why most of the scene is doomed to the cutting room floor.

  1. Reblogged this on talktodiana and commented:
    Loved this and want to share it with all you wonderful folks who are writing books.

    I’m no book writer, but I ‘ve struggled with cutting parts of what I write when I’ve bonded with it – you know what I mean, even though I know keeping it takes away from the finished product…

  2. Well I find myself in your shoes a lot. So what do I do is either I put it aside and think on it . But I either go back to it later after I think about it or I get rid of it. Then I think on something else . I’m working on several things but I’m having trouble with them.

    • I think most writers can identify with the lost in the weeds feeling. For me, I started experiencing breakthrough when I stopped walking away from the weeds and dedicated myself to fighting through them. If I put the thing aside, it’s unlikely I’ll return to it. Sometimes that’s okay, but if the work is something that’s humming in my bones, I have to keep at it. I owe it to myself and to the world to do so.
      Thanks for reading, and may you find peace in the weeds!

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