Monday, 12 September 2011

Never Lose Your Nuggets!


Today’s posting follows on from last week’s post about allowing yourself to write freely for your first draft. The first draft is not the place for perfection.

You may have heard of the phrase to kill your darlings. This is something that every writer comes across as some point during the self-critiquing process, when they are editing the text created in that first draft. There are times when everything comes together perfectly. The ideas flowed, the style is there and the words have rhythm. When you read that piece of text to yourself you experience a warm glow – this is what being a writer is all about, you tell yourself.

Unfortunately, those best bits, also known as your darlings, are not always appropriate for that particular piece of text. On the occasions when you need to cut excess wordage from your work, often it is your darlings that your deleting knife should be wielded at, but because of the emotional attachment you have to those phrases, you end up trying to delete everything else apart from your darlings. This is because the writer fears that they are throwing away their best work.

Now, as a writing tutor, I’ve always told students that nothing in this game is wasted. Accepting that a darling needs to be culled from a particular piece is a huge step for a writer to take in their learning journey, but it doesn’t mean that you have to throw it away, permanently. You can, and should, keep it.

One of the books I’m reading at the moment, (I often have several on the go at any one time) is The Secrets To Writing Great Comedy by Lesley Brown. (Hodder Teach Yourself - ISBN: 978-1-444-12892-5 - £12.99) In this book, Lesley refers to this moment of knowing when to kill your darlings, except she doesn’t refer to them as darlings, but as gold nuggets. And just like gold nuggets, their value can increase over time. There may come a moment when you are writing something and you suddenly remember that nugget of text that you had to cut from one piece, which would now fit a new piece you are currently writing. And, sometimes, that nugget of text works better in this new context than it did in the original piece for which you wrote it. Your nugget has appreciated in value!

When it comes to the editing process, forget the phrase kill your darlings, for this suggests getting rid of it, never to see it again, which isn’t true. Learn to accept that there will be times when you need to cut the bits of writing, that you enjoyed writing the most, from your current writing project. But understand that you are not killing something off, merely putting into your own private safe another gold nugget that might appreciate in value at some point in the future, and pay better dividends than it would now.

Look after your nuggets!

Good luck. 

5 comments:

  1. In each novel folder I have a file called scraps, where the nuggets that don't fit the current novel go. It's not so painful if you don't throw them away completely, and you can get on with the next chapter without spending time mourning, or trying to fit them back in. And filestore's cheap.

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  2. I'm a terrible hoarder, so I find it almost impossible to throw anything away! I do have a good old shredding session every now and then, though.

    Having a file to put your 'scraps' in is a brilliant idea, Mike.


    Julie xx

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  3. A scraps store ...hmm... sounds intriguing. Perhaps we should have a communal scrap store at a writers' circle and then members can 'pick' at each others' scraps!

    The only things that i shred are rejection letters, Julie. I finished wallpapering my rooms years ago :-)

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  4. Like Julie I hoard, but the shredding session (recycling session in my case) always throws up a few interesting ideas to pursue, so is a good exercise in itself!

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  5. OK, I have to admit it was the title of this post which lured me here! It took me a long time to be ruthless with my 'nuggets'. These days I keep my 'darlings' that I have cut from stories in what I call my material notebook - some have been put into the stories they need to be in, while others patiently wait. Always enjoy reading your posts - thank you Simon.

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