After I posted my Writer Whacked In Effigy piece, Diane Verenberg from I’ll Cut You sent me a funny link to a childhood memory of hers about a harshly judged stuffed animal, and it got me to thinking about my Tanda bear. Tanda, may he rest in peace, was a small stuffed koala, a gift for young Heidi from a trip to Australia. For some reason my inability to understand the difference between a panda and a koala as well as my already fully formed geographical ineptitude resulted in the name Tanda. Panda minus the P take a right at Papua New Guinea, or something like that.
Unfortunately our dog, Pepper–whose digestive difficulties and fondness for roast chicken were legendary–got a hold of Tanda one day, scratched away some of his fur and quite literally gnawed the little koala’s butt off. I refused to part with Tanda and spent the better part of my early childhood wandering around clutching a partially bald koala swaddled in masking tape in order to keep his guts from falling out his derriere. A lifelong inability to throw anything away has followed. Cocktail napkins, movie stubs, playbills, I might need them later. I wouldn’t say I’m one of those hoarders, exactly. Let’s just say I retain water and change with equal aplomb. (If you think I’m kidding, just ask the bank where I dumped over a thousand dollars in coins this summer after cleaning out my closet.)
This unwillingness to let go brings me to yet another writing analogy, this time about the editing process. There’s this famous fellow (apple-cheeked author seeks audience for animated alliteration) Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch is his name, I looked it up. He’s the one who advised writers to “Murder your darlings.” His classic advice to cut your favorites because writers are never objective about their own work. I know there are times when I want to sink my teeth into a lovely phrase and not let go. But I also find the reverse is true. If I’ve read and reread something I’ve written the words no longer have meaning for me, and I’m apt to destroy things that actually belonged in the first place. So what do you think? Are we ever capable of stepping back from the work we’ve done and judging it objectively?
Postscript: Wordpress has this feature where they recommend content based on your post. Apparently my mention of the word koala brought up the suggestion below. It was so amusing to me that I’m leaving it in. I think we all know who is the bigger slut, don’t we?
- Poll: Are Penguins or Koalas Bigger Sluts? (thegloss.com)
I know, penguins, right! Right? Shit, I thought I knew.
Writers? Step back and be objective? Not in this household, where the mere mention of certain editors launches me toward the gun safe. (Okay, so I don’t have a gun safe. Or a gun. BUT IF I DID.)
Sometimes I self-edit or destroy my favorite bits simply out of necessity–I’m up against a word count, or my guidelines Forbid It. But in all other cases? Ridiculously difficult to do.
I think it’s best that writers not be allowed near firearms, don’t you? I don’t want to generalize, but as a group I’m not sure we’re the most stable of people.
I have to say thus far I’ve willingly eviscerated a lot of darlings in my ms for The Flying Jewel. But the one thing I was sure would be axed was my prologue which is strange and dark and I love. I know it’s supposed to be a rookie mistake that all debut novelists think they need a prologue, but for the moment it’s still in. If I’m lucky enough (god willing) to sell the thing and an editor makes me get rid of it, I’m posting it here. Ah narcissistic indulgence, thy name is blog.
So yeah, objective about my own work, not bloody likely.
I remember the Koala but I never knew his name was Tanda. However, talk of Pepper’s digestive difficulties fills me with guilt. I remember returning from my first semester of college to discover no one had been able to housebreak him. I finally smacked him a few times and that solved the problem for a long time until we discovered that our boy suffered from pancreatitis. I feel bad about it but I ask myself, would it be better if he hadn’t been housebroken at all? And somehow there is some relationship between this story and murdering your darlings, isn’t there?
I find that sometimes when you are in love with an extraneous phrase that doesn’t quite fit it’s because it’s the making of something entirely new.
That’s a great way to look at it. I like that. Now I’m imagining some noisy synapse kicking me in the cerebellum, like an impatient child, letting me know I have a new idea I need to work on later. Uh…not that I would encourage that sort of behavior. Kids, don’t kick mummy in the skull. Stay home, don’t do drugs, do your homework. Cue The More You Know music…
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