by Catherine Rayburn-Trobaugh: President, Word Branch Media
Whenever I get to the editing stage of a project, the voice of author and critic, Arthur Quiller-Couch, seeps into my consciousness and whispers a nefarious suggestion: Murder your darlings.
No, I’m not having a psychotic break due to the stress of writing; I am following sound revising and editing advice. Murdering your darlings refers to the ruthless drafting a writer must do to create readable and relevant copy. I am talking about cutting out those wonderful phrases and words that you think are witty literary prose but simply don’t belong.
Murdering your darlings is probably the most difficult part of the creative process. It forces us to take a hard look at what we have written and make honest assessments. When I teach writing courses, this is the part that causes both anger and agony for my students. I’m sure to get the death glare from a student when I suggest that striking a phrase may make the writing better.
With practice it becomes easier to mercilessly slaughter the words we love best. The more a writer produces, the more he or she realizes that there will always be another short story, novel, poem, or essay. There will always be another outlet for the prized phrases and sentences that need to be excised from the current piece. And while I’m not encouraging hacking writing to the bare bones, I am suggesting that the “less is more” policy is often the best way to go.
The plain fact of writing is that there will always be always be editors and teachers who will gladly hand you a scalpel and encourage you to slice and dice your favorite work. Believe it or not, they have your best interest at heart, and their distance from the writing gives them the perspective you may not have. I advise writing students to put their projects away for at least a week. When they’ve put some distance between the intense emotion of fresh writing and the coolness of rewriting, then the darlings aren’t quite so dear and banishing them is not quite as difficult.
Writing is messy business. It requires both passion and indifference; obsession and distance. Murdering your darlings is hard and painful work, but good writers get their hands dirty and great writers, excuse the grisly metaphor, get them bloody.
Although you may use this advice freely, the writing is copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without the explicit permission of Catherine Rayburn-Trobaugh (firstname.lastname@example.org).
by Catherine Rayburn-Trobaugh: President: Word Branch Media
I enjoyed The Hunger Games—the book series that is. It has everything a good Saturday read should—engaging characters, a compelling plot, and sit-on-the-edge-of-your-seat action. I admired Suzanne Collins’ technique of writing in first person, present tense to draw the audience in—it isn’t easy to do. When I heard the movie was coming out, I had the usual mixed emotions: I can’t wait to see the book come to life, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be disappointed. Although I haven’t seen the movie yet, the reviews, both official and from friends and family, have been good.
In addition to being an avid reader of nearly every genre, I love movies too. From the time I was little, my father introduced me to all of the classics, and when I was older, I developed my own canon that I passed on to my daughters. From Casablanca to The Graduate to Apocalypse Now to Star Wars, I’ve lost myself in a good movie becoming a part of the landscape rather than just an audience.
But most readers can agree that the movie you create in your head while reading doesn’t always match the one on the screen. I can appreciate that a movie has to seriously cut sections of a book in order to fit into an appropriate time slot. I can also understand that my mental casting may not be all that realistic—it’s pretty difficult to pair a young Marlon Brando with a present day Natalie Portman. Most of us readers walk into a movie theatre with a death grip on our jumbo popcorn preparing for the worst.
And despite all of the forgiveness, I am often disappointed at least in part. I wouldn’t have cast certain people or I thought the wrong scenes were cut. In all my decades of movie watching and reading, I can only think of one time that the movie was better than the book: African Queen. Don’t read the book; it is awful.
I’ll always read, and I’ll always watch movies. A good story is simply a good story. If the dialogue is believable, if the characters win or repel you, if the concept is original, and if the narrative touches you, then a well told tale is a well told tale no matter the medium.
by Catherine Rayburn-Trobaugh: President, Word Branch Publishing
My front porch hovers 20 feet above the ground surrounded by forest—sitting on it makes me feel like I’m in the tree house that I always wanted as a child. There’s a fairytale-like sense about it. After my husband and I, and our two dogs, moved in, I immediately knew this porch was made for warm-weather reading. But I couldn’t quite get comfortable. I tried a rocking chair, a lawn chair, and a kitchen chair—all not quite right.
Then one day after a trip to Murphy, I couldn’t get up the one-lane gravel mountain road to our house because a violent storm blew down a tree blocking the way. I went back to town to pass time and wait out the storm. I wandered into my favorite thrift store and saw it—my reading nest. Call it fate.
My reading nest is really a used futon that I bought for $40 and rehabilitated with a new cover and some furniture polish. I piled it with pillows, put a basket for magazines and books next to it, and the sad piece of used furniture was transformed to my cozy reading nest.
On warm days, I heap the pillows at one end and curl up with a book while listening to the murmuring creek next to the house and birds trilling in the background. There are pleasant interruptions—hummingbirds swooping and diving to compete for the best location at the feeder, a skink shimmying up the side of the house in search of an insect snack, carpenter bees who stubbornly try to drill through the new metal roof. At night, I read my Kindle with the lighted cover. It conjures childhood memories of sneaking a read after bedtime with a flashlight and the latest Nancy Drew.
The reading nest has become a favorite spot for company too. Regular summer visitors vie for the nest as a guest bed, and why not? It’s like sleeping in the trees. It’s a place to cuddle with my grandsons and to share with my daughters to talk and read. Ozzie, our Australian Sheppard, thinks it is his alone, and he graciously, sometimes not so graciously, shares it with his humans.
I’ve often referred to the reading nest as the best $40 I ever spent. It’s grown to be a feature of our slightly quirky home, and it reflects who my husband and I are and what we value. It’s become more of a symbol than a physical object; worn, comfortable, and familiar.
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