Spring is long gone but this past week I decided to get rid of some things I didn’t use: a lime green purse that seemed like a good idea at the time, a pair of sandals in good condition that I haven’t worn for years, and two beautiful cat beds for which I paid a fortune but which were summarily rejected by my two kitties.
When I first got Scooter and Riley, I promised myself I would only buy them products made in the U.S. That was more difficult than I imagined. Pet stores carried no food bowls that weren’t made in China. A few handcrafted bowls were advertised online but they were incredibly expensive. I finally went to a department store and bought people dishes—made in Italy, but at least it’s part of NATO.
I scoured the Internet for beds and finally found a pair made in Northern California without toxic foam. They were expensive, but Scooter and Riley were worth the price. Experienced cat owners will have already guessed that my girls refused to go near those beds. I tried disguising them with soft cotton pillowcases, placing them in desirable places throughout the house. No luck. They preferred to sleep here:
I’ve been holding onto those beautiful beds for three years. It was time to let go. Last week I donated them to a rescue organization, hoping they would go to a Chihuahua with impeccable taste.
So, what does this have to do with writing? Sometimes we hold onto our beautiful words way too long, hoping we can shoehorn them into a space they were never meant to fill. It’s particularly painful when you’ve worked hard to craft those words.
The following quote has been attributed to various writers from Chekov to Welty. I prefer the Stephen King version:
“…kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
Editing is the most pleasurable part of writing for me, but sometimes I, too, suffer from loving my words too much. I wrote a passage about Los Angeles in the novel I just finished. Members of my writing group told me it sent chills down their collective spines. I loved that paragraph so much I used it to open the book. It remained there long after I knew it read like a sharp poke to the ribs. Finally, reluctantly, I killed the little darling. Okay, maybe maimed is a better word. I actually cut it in half and found another place in the novel where it fit perfectly.
And here’s the thing about shedding things that don’t work; once they’re gone the world feels like a better place. I’m off to make some cuts to one of my chapters. Without regret. No sniffing, just snipping.
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