Thursday, October 23, 2008

A response to common writerly advice

If I hear one more writing teacher at one more conference say "murder your darlings," I'm going to commit a crime! Seriously, it's terrible advice, but it gets repeated over and over again simply because Faulkner or Elmore Leonard or Fitzgerald or somebody Important was supposed to have said it. It is unwise counsel from the same blather machine that gave us the Worship of Hemingway Style (spare, muscular prose, or at least supposedly so), and the Church of Strunk and White (a.k.a. "How to write like a terse New Englander").

Because of this proliferating nonsense, authors with glorious, Gothic, indulgent, magnificent passages set to work paring them back to leaner stuff that is a repudiation of everything that makes that particular author wonderful. Don't even get me started on writers' workshops where these same energetic authors go in with their own voices and come out parroting MFA program product.

I'll offer a counter-bit of advice. Nurture your darlings. If you love a passage, keep it! Lean into your own writerly indulgences, and enjoy them. Give yourself shivers, and then thrill when your readers get them, too. And don't listen to too many gurus at writers' worshops or conferences. If anyone ever gives you advice that makes you either feel depressed or like you did something wrong with your work, just blow them a kiss and walk away.

Indulge yourself, your subconscious, your impulses, your dreams . . . all on the page, all wonderful, all alive. And leave the best bits for me to read -- don't edit them out, please!

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