Experiment #2: Celebrate your darlings

William Faulkner is reputed to have said, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.” If you harbor an unreasonable affection for a particular bit of writing, you should delete it.  You have lost all objectivity and the bit you love is doing the overall story no good.

That’s the theory.

There are times when that’s probably great advice. But just as an experiment, I’d like to advocate the opposite tack.

I encourage you to celebrate the bits that you love – whether they are by you or by someone else.  I invite you to post them here for others to enjoy.  By way of example, I’ll quote one of my favorite bits of writing — the beginning of a short essay by E.B. White (yes, the author of Charlotte’s Web). He wrote it for the Writers War Board during World War II, in response to a request for a statement on “The Meaning of Democracy.”

Surely the Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the “don’t” in “don’t shove.” It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the people are right more than half of the time.

The essay goes on, every sentence a gem. (You can find the whole of it here.) I am sure that E.B. While loved every line of it – and I do too.  I’m very glad he didn’t decide to kill any of these darlings.

A number of years ago, I wrote a novel as Max Merriwell. Writing as Max Merriwell was a whole lot of fun – mainly because Max is the kind of guy who would never dream of killing his darlings. Max loves his own writing; it makes him very happy. He never frets about it. He doesn’t worry about self-indulgence. He just enjoys the process and the result in glorious self-confidence. It’s admirable, in a terrifying sort of way.

Taking my direction from Max, I’ve decided to celebrate a paragraph from my latest published story — About Fairies on tor.com.  Here’s the bit I love:

Cats have theories. Every cat owner knows that. The cats can’t and won’t tell you their theories. You must deduce the theories from their behavior. Then you have theories about the cats’ theories. If you modify your behavior in response to your theories about their theories, you may change their theories. It is an endlessly recursive loop. The viewer affects the system.  It’s Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle with cats.

I confess (which is, theoretically, good for the soul) I smile every time I read that paragraph. And I have to stop writing now, because one of my cats has a theory that all the pens belong on the floor, so she is knocking them off my desk one by one.

Do you have a paragraph you love?  Feel free to post it here. Celebrate your darlings. At least for now.

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3 Responses to Experiment #2: Celebrate your darlings

  1. Pat Murphy April 20, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

    Just after I posted this, I received a bit of spam that I thought was bizarrely delightful enough to share. Here it is:

    “Rectangular, square and round cushions and pillows are an instant attraction and a great snow park. The name Costa de la Luz as it gives the option of having your own website, through relatives and friends and Turkey, or maybe even Coach. Still, currently we can’t offer performance of the camera, if your toddler doesn’t have a large collection of plant specimens.”

    It makes my head go sideways in an interesting way — particularly when I reach the last line. Maybe it’s just me.

  2. Leigh Goodwin August 17, 2013 at 11:16 am #

    Just read “About Fairies” in the Tor collection & fell in Writer Infatuation with you, came here. This is a darling of mine just now (written this morning, on my last day of a two-month stay in a nursing home recuperating from a bad fall.)

    the home place

    some folks say
    it’s where
    when you have to go there,
    they have to take you.

    So that’s not wrong
    so far as it goes
    but it’s a bit unkind, maybe —
    unprodigal.

    I say
    it’s where
    when you want to go there
    so badly you’ll give up your easy
    anonymous wallow,
    pick up responsibility again
    put it on like a clean shirt,
    accept the recognition
    of your place in the sweet slow
    mechanics of family —

    it’s where
    when you want to go there
    so much you’ll give up
    lifting nothing,
    to regain the quiet beating weight
    that’s everything —

    they’ll bear you joyously
    over the familiar threshold,
    and only say
    we’re glad.

    We’re glad you’re here at last.

    ~ L.C. Goodwin

  3. Ed Lesperance October 2, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

    NOT just you. It’s the psycho-design of the phrases, where what you expect via context does NOT appear. No wonder it spins the brain.

    It starts with a reasonable assumption which devolves into a disconnected, otherwise sensible phrase. It also uses an inappropriate English connections: “Luz as it.” Otherwise it is grammatically correct, but non-sequiter.

    It is almost as if it was constructed from random cut-and-paste. A schizophrenic paragraph; most enjoyable.

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