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snip snip – kill your darlings.

February 28, 2011

we all know that i’m wordy as all F. i love adverbs. i can’t help it. i know that apparently they are weak words but i just love the fluidity of them, the way they are on my tongue. and i love adjectives, too. i like putting weird things together and seeing what comes of it. it’s fun, and it makes my brain happy.

at the moment, i’m working on a specific poetry project. i very much misread the directions and wrote a poem that was probably about 30 or 35 lines long. when i submitted it, my editor said “uhhhh this is supposed to be 15 lines.”  and i said “oh.  whoopsies”. and he said “here’s the nucleus of the poem for me. i think this is strongest. build around this one stanza.” and i said “WHAT. okay fine.” and so i sat down and i edited and i cut a LOT.

it was hard. this poem is still in its earlier days. it’s wobbly and clunky. but hey guess what

halving the poem made it so much better.

which i was both pleased with and perturbed at.

but i suppose this is my manifesto with writing, which i’m sure many of my colleagues have noticed. i always, always give more. i know that i do it. i fall in love with so many words that i just get so happy, and i use them all (or close to all of them) and it gets to be a big, general-admission monster of a thing. as my friend natalie once said – “your poem needs a buzz cut.” and it’s true. i give lots and i realise that it’s going to be pared down.

KILLING YOUR DARLINGS – that’s what it’s called and it was good old Faulky that gave that advice or possibly also Mark Twain but apparently originally Arthur Quiller Couch (“murder your darlings”).

darling murderer. ^

it just seems easier to me to barf out a thousand words and then go back and fine-tune it. but then again, there are writers who start out with bare bones and then have to build it up. such different ways of writing.

in my mind it is like this: i need to get it all out on the page. i want to go SPLAT – throw all the words down and sort them into a semblance of order, and then leave it to ferment or sit or age or whatever it does. and then i either workshop it, or i come to it myself and i try to start snipping things. i’m not the best at cutting in poetry, but i’ve found that this works in prose. every day in prose i’m cutting things that i thought were SO beautiful the day before. it’s frustrating and odd and frantic and i have many, many drafts of my thesis because i’m always fiddling things. but at least it’s all down there, on the page. it’s all there – it just needs to be rearranged and trimmed a bit.

the point of this post was this: i had never before done such a drastic cut. usually it’s a few lines, or lines brought up together instead of a line break, or minor changes. this was a major overhaul, and my mind railed against it. i said no no no and it took me five days to sit down and do it, because i was already frustrated without even doing it. there was a real mental block there. and then guess what i did it and it was good.

what an interesting exercise. i’m glad that my editor pushed it.

i need to try brevity more often.

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