Saturday, January 8, 2022

Cleaning House -- by Jane Kelley

It's revision time!

In the life of a writer, it's almost always revision time. For the rest of the world, the month of January is when we try to look back at the past -- and try to figure out what needs fixing so that we can progress to our beautiful futures.

The simplest way to do that is to shed some pounds, whether they're dust or clutter or actual flesh. Marie Kondo would have us discard anything that does not spark joy. 

Writers are often advised to "kill our darlings." That doesn't just mean cutting the really lovely description of a crow flapping its ragged wings. Sometimes, sadly, that means jettisoning the entire novel in which that sentence appears. 

Pounding away at a project that isn't going anywhere is frustrating. It also takes us away from working on a project that has a much greater chance of having a life. But I would advise us all to take care. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

Or, Das Kind mit dem Bade ausschütten, as Thomas Murner cautioned readers in his 1512 book titled Appeal to Fools.

The warning makes a little sense. In the days before indoor plumbing, after the whole family had scrubbed themselves clean in the same tub, the water was so dirty that it was hard to see the baby. 

The question I ask myself when I revise is:  was it a bad idea or just bad writing? (I also ask myself if I really want to be a writer. But I know the answer to that is really yes.)

So go ahead. Clean that closet. Kill those darlings. And remember the saying means check first. It doesn't mean don't throw out the dirty water. And it certainly doesn't mean don't take a bath. 

Jane Kelley is the author of the unpublishable novel with crows and many other middle grade novels, including The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya, in which many other birds did take flight.

1 comment:

  1. This is so cool. I have many unpublishable crow novels. BUT: there's always SOMETHING in there you can use somewhere else. :)