Monday, June 16, 2014

Kill the little darlings

Patty here

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.

Happy Monday! 

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  1. from Jacqueline: Lovely post, Patty. There's a cat at the ranch where I keep the horses, and I've rather taken to her. Or him. I took in a little bed for the cat (who I've named Bagpuss, after a British cartoon character), but he/she prefers to sleep on a box of books - I've been taking unwanted books out to the barn with a label "Free Books." I love your kitties in their boxes - very cute. And I have to confess, I've become a murderous word-witch now. I sort of feel empowered by killing my on-the-page darlings and seeing the sentences gain power and heft as a result of the death of unwanted words. Probably something deeply psychological there ....

  2. I don't call my words my little darlings. More like little bastards.

  3. from Jacqueline: Well said, Paul!

  4. thanks for pointing out the "reply" thing, patty. i haven't been able to
    place any comments since all you naked people came back.
    love your cats in their "boxbeds"!

    1. We are overjoyed to have you back, Sybille!

  5. Patty, there was an event in northern california recently where you bring in toxic foam and exchange them for non toxic foam.

    I wonder if holding on to words or phrases is similar to holding on to ideas or plots?

    It reminded me of the essays I wrote in college. One of my writing tutors was shocked that I threw out sentences that did not work in exchange for phrases that worked.