It’s been said that, to be successful, a writer has to learn to kill his darlings. Darlings, if you haven’t heard, are those sentences, paragraphs, scenes, or chapters you love as a writer, but which don’t fit into your story. Maybe they slow the pacing, or confuse the reader, or perhaps they’re just unnecessary. Whatever the reason, no matter how much you love the beauty or cleverness of your words, you have to get rid of them for the sake of your story. Even if it hurts.
I’ve had to do this myself. A lot. (sniff) I’m so much better at coming up with ideas than I am at converting them into words, so I generally have way more ideas than I can wedge into a scene. When I’m writing the first draft, I’ll jot down every idea that comes to me, even if they’re contradictory, figuring I can always decide which ideas to keep once I know the direction the scene is headed. This means a significant portion of my editing process involves deciding what stays and what goes. And when I decide what goes, I often appease myself by moving the passages to another computer file with the promise I’ll use them one day in the future.
But sometimes, this pile of ideas coalesces into two distinct camps, two different ways I can accomplish the same scene. And instead of buckling down and deciding which route I should take, I waffle about and try to find a way to fit both concepts into the scene. Occasionally it works, but usually all I get is a mess that brings the writing to a screeching halt for days, sometimes weeks. (Yeah, I can be stubborn) Eventually, I build up the courage to pull the plug on one of them and get on with it, but it's hard. Once my ideas have been transferred to the page, having to give one of them up is like having to choose which child is my favorite.
But my goal for the rest of the year is to write faster, so I’ve become more ruthless about making these decisions earlier in the process. Can I maintain this ruthlessness for the rest of the year? I’ll let you know in about six months.
Do you have any special rituals to make you feel better when you get rid of your darlings?