To Be A Writer, You Have To Be Prepared To Kill…
Anyone who has ever thought seriously about writing for a living has probably heard the expression credited to the American author and Nobel Prize laureate, William Faulkner: “In writing you must kill all your darlings.” But what does it mean?
As I wrote in this article for The Writing Cooperative in 2019, the phrase means making ruthless cuts to your work. I spent my week of annual leave editing my novel, which I wrote last year during lockdown. It was ~80,000 words at the start of the process, but so far I’ve cut 10,000 words and I’m not yet done. To begin with, I was cutting and pasting excerpts into a separate document, thinking I might regret making the excisions. But as the process went on, I became bolder and bolder. I started brutally hacking my darling manuscript to shreds. Minute word changes became whole conversations that I hit backspace on, and I even deleted my first chapter altogether because it didn’t place the reader in the heart of the action.
Despite having read a million guides on ‘how to get published’ that all stressed the importance of a rigorous edit process, I was guilty of rushing to get feedback from my work from literary agents. I’ve been querying a novel that is still in the draft stage. Although I’ve had some positive feedback so far (one agency said it was engaging, original, and well-written), I know in my heart of hearts it can be better still.
I have an English degree from Oxford University, an NCTJ journalism qualification and I’ve been working as an editor since the age of 17. I guess I’d somehow convinced myself that my work would need less editing than other peoples’ does. But that’s simply not the case. Everybody’s work benefits from the edit process-including mine.
When you write something that means a lot to you, it can be very easy to get excited and want to share it with the world as soon as possible. But unless it’s a super time-sensitive news piece, your work will almost certainly benefit from staying in draft mode for a little longer.
A few weeks ago, in this newsletter I talked about how you can impress editors. I shared my advice for how you can ensure the first draft you submit is as polished as possible. Embarrassingly, when it came to my novel, I hadn’t followed my own advice. And I think that comes back to the fact that it’s hard to kill your darlings. My novel is about two things that mean a lot to me-music and journalism-and so I let my passion for the story (as in the ‘what-it’s-all-about’) get the better of me so that I blindly overlooked the narrative problems (which last week I realised included dialogue and pacing problems).
If you’re currently close to finishing a longer article or piece of fiction, let it rest. Don’t do what I did and fire it off without doing your due diligence and self-editing first. Kill those darlings.
… in editing
There have been some really great interviews published on The Indiependent lately; I particularly enjoyed Rory Sanger’s chat with Lee Underwood, author of Blue Melody: Tim Buckley Remembered. I also edited James Riding’s interview with Ryan Hyslop from Trash Boat.
… in writing
Pitches: 2 (2 repitches)
I’m in that annoying phase of knowing a pitch is genius but not having any luck-I’ll keep chipping away until I place it.
Articles written: 0
Articles published: 0
This week was predominantly spent catching up on emails and coordinating the next print edition of The Indiependent magazine, so I’ve not had a huge amount of time to pitch or write my own ideas.
But in fun personal news, I got word that one of my short stories is being published in an anthology, so that’s super exciting stuff!
… in listening/watching
I’ve been working my way through Rolling Stones’ list of ‘ The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time ‘… I made the mistake of tweeting about how much hip-hop there is and every man in the world decided to hit reply and tell me their thoughts on the genre. Fun times.
… in reading
- The Indiependent’s Film section has been smashing their coverage of BFI Flare — make sure you’re following editors Steph, Elliott, Jake and Emma on Twitter
- Ellen Cushing’s piece for The Atlantic on how ‘Late-Stage Pandemic Is Messing With Your Brain’ was a really great reminder to take it easy
- Zoya Raza-Sheikh has been smashing the interviews lately — I loved this one for Gay Times with Girl In Red (I’m so excited for If I Could Make It Go Quiet)
- This Nieman Lab piece by Logan Molyneux and Shannon McGregor was thought-provoking: ‘When journalists put tweets in news stories, do they transfer too much power to Twitter?’
- Loved Louis Staples’ i_D piece ‘In defence of Keira Knightley’
- Ken Klippenstein’s investigation for The Intercept on Amazon was shocking but not surprising: ‘Documents show Amazon is aware drivers pee in bottles and even defecate en route, despite company denial’
- Loved this New York Times feature by Alex Marshall who spoke to roadies who are missing touring
- Serena Smith’s Refinery29 piece on ‘soft-launching’ relationships read me for filth
- Kelsey Barnes has a Taylor Swift column over at Gigwise which I am so insanely jealous of, but it’s great and you should definitely read it
- Faima Bakar’s Metro piece on ‘How racism impacts air quality and endangers life’ is a harrowing reminder that inequality is all around us
- Loved this VICE feature by Ryan Bassil who spoke to sixteen UK artists about their favourite small venue shows
- Imogen West-Knights is perpetually brilliant as Bougie London Literary Woman — whose VICE piece on ‘Her lockdown year’ had me chortling
Originally published at https://thepeakdistrict.substack.com.