There’s a phrase that’s popular in the writing community, and it’s “killing your darlings”.
At its heart, the phrase is meant to encourage a writer to look for bits and pieces in a work which the writer feels are brilliant, or which the writer tremendously enjoyed writing, but which do absolutely nothing to advance the story. These can include clever bits of dialogue, description, or ideas which seem “cool” but, again, do nothing to move the plot forward. Sometimes, these can be hard for a writer to spot, and they’re even harder for a writer to cut, but it’s almost always the right decision. When a writer feels so strongly that an idea is a good one, when that idea takes over the work so that all other concerns must become secondary to it, that’s a huge problem.
I haven’t touched my current novel in days, and I haven’t been able to start any short stories. I have the most severe case of writer’s block imaginable, not because I don’t know what comes next, but because none of what comes next seems worth the effort. I realized about a week ago that one of the things which was holding me back was that there was an idea in my novel which kept forcing me to shoehorn or fudge other parts in order to make it work. This is a problem. It’s a particularly big problem because the darling in question is one of the core concepts of the novel. Actually, there are three core concepts, and they aren’t playing nice with each other. Not even a little bit. There’s really no way to work around it without killing one, two, or all of the ideas, and I haven’t been able to make the call. I’ve been avoiding touching the thing because I don’t enjoy writing when I’m writing throwaway scenes, and each scene I go over would need to be rewritten depending on which idea or ideas get the boot. Mostly I feel like killing the whole thing with fire and never looking back, but that feels just as bad because for a while I was really sure that this novel was going to be the one. Not the one that sold a jillionty copies and made me richer than everyone else on the planet combined, but the one that I finished. Actually being able to write “the end” at the end of a novel would have felt incredible, but the more I look at this one, the more I see its flaws. the more I know that finishing it wouldn’t really be finishing it because it would have been less complete than any draft I’ve ever done. It’s depressing.
More depressing, I look at the hundreds of ideas I have lined up and I’m questioning them all. Are they good, or are they darlings? Would I be bringing them to life just to slit their throats next week? Really, it shouldn’t matter. Being afraid to fail is what holds most people back from writing, or anything, in the first place. It’s not so much that I’m afraid to fail, it’s that I despise wasting my time. If I’m going to write something, I need to know that it’s worth the writing. It doesn’t have to end up good, but it needs to have the potential, otherwise it’s just drudgery. I have a day job for that, I need my writing to be fun. I don’t mind if it’s hard or if it’s work, but if I hate it then there really isn’t any point.
Tonight, I think I realized that what I need is a palate cleanser. There’s an idea that I tossed around with some friends last November, saying that I’d write it “as a joke” one day, and I think that that idea’s time may just have come. It may never amount to anything, but it might be the sort of frivolous bit of creative writing that I need to have everything else come together. At the very least, it would be writing.