Writer’s Corner | A Writer’s Guide to “Killing Your Darlings”

Right now, I’m aching over the fact that Scar Tissue will suffer the same treatment all of my blog posts eventually get — the chopping block. Yes, I’m talking about killing your darlings.

If you’re a writer, a practitioner of this craft – a world builder, you’re probably fully aware that all good writers are self-critical.

“Kill your darlings” is a nothing short of a segment from your self-written writer’s manifesto, and if isn’t yet, it should be soon. What does killing your darlings mean for a writer? Killing your darlings, killing your babies, whatever you want to call it, might sound like a murderous violent task, but I assure you, if you do it correctly, it doesn’t have to be bloody. It’s quite simple actually: If something isn’t working in your writing, take it out. It could be a single word, a sentence, or even an entire chapter. As Will Rogers’ famous advice goes, ‘Never miss a good chance to shut the hell up’.

Your darlings are those sentences, paragraphs, or even whole chapters that tug at our heart strings.

They often lift us up and make us feel like we’re floating in the clouds. They bring up emotions that often link us to personal memories. They haunt us when we re-read them. We love how these words are organized, and we love how these words make us feel.

The problem is we can be so enchanted by these words, that we forget what we’re writing – we simply could not care less if it fits our story, or helps our writing in any way.

In fact, these beloved anecdotes often serve us so deeply, but only confuse our readers.

We love these words, but unfortunately, we do a huge disservice to our writing, to our readers, and to ourselves by keeping them.

This doesn’t mean you should limit yourself.

I’ve always believed that the first draft, of any piece of writing, is always written by the writer, for the writer.

It is not until the editing process begins that we start to consider the reader.

Write uninhibited, write with ambition, and don’t concern yourself with labels, genres, or style.

We are not burying your words six feet under to be forgotten forever.

The great thing about it is, although it’s necessary to kill our darlings, we do not need to arrange for a funeral service. Why? Because chances are, that piece of writing, although not fitting for your current project, is probably brilliant. And, if it makes you feel some type of way, you do not delete it forever.

Instead, save them for later – open up a Word document, CTRL-C, CTRL-P, then save. By doing this, we can keep moving forward while also relieving a little pressure off ourselves.

Now the real work begins.

You’ve removed the offensive cluster of words; now you must fill the gaping hole in your manuscript.

Start by re-reading the section, paragraph, or chapter before the portion you cut, then immediately, yes – immediately, write a new version of that scene.

Don’t over-think it, just let the words flow. Let the images in your head guide your pen (or keyboard – to each their own).

Don’t concern yourself with the bits of words you exterminated before, just write like it’s your first time, and you’re simply continuing the story.

Write it fresh, write it from within, like you already know how, and I promise you, it’ll come out so good, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear at the end.

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What is Creative Non-Fiction?

Creative Non-Fiction is your diary hidden under the mattress, your travelogues, your WordPress blog, it’s your overflowing binder of recipes, erotica, your favorite fan-fiction, it’s your advice columns, Yelp reviews, satire news articles, and literary criticism. And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Literary Journalism

Creative Non-Fiction, also known as Literary Journalism, makes a great example of how flexible the practice and art form of writing truly is. Most of us adhere to the simple understanding of fiction and non-fiction being categorized by how factual the writing is.

Creative Non-Fiction purposely blurs these lines.

That fact alone is the reason why it is my preferred genre and the reason why I absolutely adore it so much. It is a reminder that a person’s individual truth is often subjective, whereas a concrete, well-supported fact, is not.

Creative Non-Fiction enjoys dipping its toes in and out of sub-genres, rubbing people the wrong way, while often dancing all over and challenging a critic’s claims.

Sub-Genres

A basis for understanding this concept can be seen when observing sub-genres such as poetry, song-writing, or script-writing. Unlike personal essays or memoirs, where the foundation is, in fact, real life, such a rule cannot be measured or tested in all works. Only the writer can verify whether or not their poetry, song-writing, or script is derived from real life, and how much of it is. Creative elements within poetry, song-writing, and script-writing, as well as style or theme, make such a claim impossible to measure.

You’re Probably Already Doing It

Many types of writing, many of which you probably do often in your day-to-day life, is considered Creative Non-Fiction. In fact, journals, not to be confused with diaries, are the most common types of Creative Non-Fiction. Diaries are typically a type of Journal in which you log or document the events of your day-to-day life, however, a Journal is any kind of written log — anything written with the intention to reference later. This can be a collection of recipes or a comprehensive guide to completing your long-term goals.

Literature vs. Journalism

Why has Creative Non-Fiction taken on the nickname of Literary Journalism? First, we must consider what Literature is, and why it holds value in Journalism. Literature, more specifically, is considered written work with a strong creative or artistic touch. Literature is the poetic element; the story-telling. It is the parts of writing that bring forth pleasure, imagery and other emotions. Journalism, objectively, is the reporting of facts. It often strives to inform the reader of events that are happening around them.

What Creative Non-Fiction Means to Me

Without Creative Non-Fiction, this blog would not exist. Scar Tissue would not exist. Without Creative Non-Fiction, the power and influence of storytelling would not exist. Perspective would not exist. Connecting with the world would not exist. Learning about the world would not exist. The comments section would not exist. The conversation would not exist. My truth would not exist. Your truth would not exist.

The Future of Creative Non-Fiction

Today, journalists instill elements of Creative Writing into their news reporting in order to make their stories more compelling. Many would advocate that this strategy blurs the facts — that it is all but a competitive tactic driven by media giants to maximize readership, consumption and profit. There is no doubt that the capitalistic nature of mass media influences what is produced, as well as what is distributed.

However, the beauty of art, language, and literature is that we are free to write what we want. And, most importantly, we are most free when we do it. We can always write another story, a better story. We can always bring forth another perspective. We can always change the minds of our audience.

Keep creating. Keep writing. Keep sharing with the world.

Writer’s Corner | The Self-Centered Routine

Prioritize You

Terrible title, isn’t it?  Here are two totally bad words, self-centered and routine, and I’m asking you to consider rediscovering the meaning for both. The truth is, it’s okay to prioritize you. You should be at the center of your life. But, what exactly does it mean to be at the center of your life? It does not mean to dismiss or not care for others. However, it does mean that your visions should come before the visions of others. You should be investing majority of your time in yourself — not others. I like to think of myself as someone who passionately serves others, and makes it a firm goal in my life to actively do so, however, the one person whom I serve most of all is myself. Additionally, having a routine doesn’t mean your life is suddenly void of any ounce of fun or impromptu excitement. Although I am far from mastering the routine, I do put myself at the center of it, each and every day, and, although my routine, alike all self-improvement techniques, is a work-in-progress, I realize the power of putting my dreams on a pedestal. I realize there is real magic in putting myself first.

The Daily Routine

The greatest creative visionaries of all time had a secret weapon. Their secret weapon, the rule that both Woody Allen and Ernest Hemingway adhered to, was in fact the daily routine. Hemingway wrote 500 words a day, rain or shine. Allen once said that success is 80% showing up.

If you want to create something worthwhile in your lifetime, if you want to write things, make things, do things, be things – you need not wait for inspiration to come knocking. Honey, you break that door down. You show up, and you work.

Habit and Discipline

I often whine to friends about my creative dry spells. For years, in fact, I did not write, and you know what? I hadn’t done a damn thing about it.

Today I know that it wasn’t inspiration I was lacking, but habit and discipline. In fact, I wrote over 100,000 words in 2017, more words than I have written in my entire life, and I did most of it at a Starbucks — a block away from the homeless shelter I was sleeping at.

So, clearly, I wasn’t lacking creativity, I was lacking the sheer will to write. The hardest decision then becomes not the writing, the making, the doing, the being, but the prioritizing — prioritizing it over everything and everyone else.

In my second year of college, I wrote and published my first book. During this time, I had few responsibilities. So, naturally, it was easy for me to say, “Hey, I’m going to write this book, and I officially don’t give a shit about anything else until it’s finished.”

I had a similar reaction when I became homeless in 2017.  I thought, well, I could sit in this shelter, I could stare at these four walls for another hour, or I could get off my ass, walk over to the Starbucks, and write. And, so I did. In both cases, I did almost nothing but write for days on end. I was so immersed in my work, that I didn’t care very much about anything else. The second time though, it probably also saved my life.

Now, more than ever, I realize habit and discipline are the true keys to any craft, to any vision, to any goal.

Become Completely Unavailable

All you have to do is pick a few hours out of your day where you become completely unavailable. For a few hours, at dawn or dusk, you simply fall off the face of the earth. No phone, no e-mail, no social media – you become completely unavailable.

I promise you, you won’t miss a thing. That text message isn’t dire, neither is that e-mail. I’m sure by now you’ve realized just how unpopular this decision will make you. Listen, they will survive without you for a few hours, and if they’re sensible human beings, or give a single crap about you, they’ll understand. Worrying about the priorities of others makes you miss out on your own.

If you can sit down and write that novel, even for 15 minutes, you will inevitably finish that novel. Making that commitment, each day, no matter how small, is what leads to results. Even the smallest of efforts eventually turn into big results.

You’re Not Actually Showing Up If You’re Not Working

How will you make the most of those precious 15 minutes? Yes, although 80% of success is showing up, you’re not actually showing up if you’re not working. But, you can show up, each day, with a stellar game plan, regardless if you’re there for 15 minutes or 15 hours. You should probably take breaks though, if you plan to take the 15 hour route.

Time Management

Although planners are a great investment, they’re really only effective if you use them well and often. I love planners, but I am not consistent with them. I actually believe that things naturally get done when you’re disciplined, and a planner can’t help you shake the lazy. Although planners do serve a purpose in my life, they’re no more than a fancy to-do list.

In my opinion, all you really need is a cheap notebook and a pen. All you need is a short list of goals for the day. On this list, everyday, you will include your creative work. I wholeheartedly believe that most things can wait until tomorrow, and there is really no purpose in doing things before they need to get done. There are more important things to do than what can be put off until tomorrow.

Set Firm Edges

This section is all about why I think multitasking prevents us from reaching our ultimate potential. Give everything you do your full attention. This is not to say that multi-tasking doesn’t have its own place, but the work that we’re doing — creative work — it has no place.

This is not your office gig. This is not data-entry. To create something remarkable, you need to be at your best, bring your best, and focus your best — all of your energy into your work. A great thing requires all of your attention.

This is essentially why setting firm edges is too important to ignore. What do I mean by firm edges? You need to be strict about when you make time for creative work and the quality of the work you’re doing during this time. Nothing is to bleed into the next section, or into the one you’re currently working in. You begin when it’s time, and you stop when it’s time, and you do nothing but what it is intended to be done during this time. In short, do not multi-task.

Energy Levels

Most of us have a time of day in which we’re most alert and energetic. This is the best time for creative work. This is not the time for data-entry! Or washing dishes. You may not realize it now, but these are truly the most valuable moments of your day. This is when you’re at your best, so anything important or difficult that needs to get done, should be done at this time. I find early mornings to be the best time for work. Preferably before the rest of the house has awoken. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and open your favorite word processor. You need to find a space where you can be with just you and your creative mind for a few minutes, or hours. Mastering this part has a lot to do with getting to know yourself. The same can be said about the next, and last section of this post.

Creative Triggers

Believe it or not, familiarity can trigger creative energy far more easily than new landscapes. When we put ourselves into a routine, giving ourselves surroundings that are familiar, it sends a trigger to our brains that says, “Hey kid! It’s time for work!” It is also comfortable and puts us in a calm state of mind. We are not busy processing and taking in all the new multi-sensory surroundings, therefore, we can focus and get to work.

The Hardest Part?

Figuring out what makes you tick as an artist is only half the battle. Consider that you found your routine, you honed your craft, and you mastered your practice. Unfortunately, it’s not over. Believe it or not, the actual hard part has not even begun yet! An artist’s primary goal is rarely ever monetary gain, but it is often exposure.

More so, the ability to connect and relate to their audience. I think artists specifically want to reach people, and lock hearts and minds with another, even for just a moment. The problem is, in order for an artist to do this, they must actually become salesmen. They sell their ideas, their words, and, of course, themselves. This requires the artist to become brave.

Do you want to know what’s even harder than that – what’s harder than the hardest thing of all? It is the fear of being criticized and deemed a fraud. It’s actually *not* being a genius or the world’s most extraordinary undiscovered artist. This is a shared concerned by me, you, and everyone else on earth.

You and I, we’re telling the world, “Hey! I worked super hard on this! I poured my heart, soul, and literal brain into it — I kind of, sort of, believe I might be good at this. Maybe, just maybe, I know what I’m talking about.” When in fact, you’re learning, like me. You’re just trying to do what feels right. You’re just doing your best.

I am no expert. There are no true masters here. We are all learning.

We’re all getting better. We’re all doing extraordinary things.

But there is one thing that I do know: Successful artists work hard at their routine, and at their craft, but even more so, accepts they have much to learn. They know we can all become a little bit stronger, a little bit better, a little bit smarter, by opening our eyes and ears to each other.

Writing From Your Compost Pile

Writers are often asked where they get their brilliant ideas from. And, still, there is this assumption that the best and most imaginative writers were born with it, when in fact, brilliance didn’t happened by accident — it was an intentional result of a practice and hard work.

Much like sex, it starts as a desire, an urge, it’s raw — a most natural act.

It is not thinking, it’s more like breathing.

When you’re in love, you don’t plot your sex life, do you? You don’t know what works until it’s discovered. You don’t make a schedule with your lover.

If you submit yourself to your writing life, as absolutely ridiculous as that sounds, the less you will worry about your ideas. By submitting yourself to the writing life, you’re inadvertently sifting through your compost pile.

That is where all of your material brines. It’s your history marinading in the backyard. This is all those parts of your past you tossed, it’s the stuff you keep covered, you filed away, sometimes to never look at again.

Everyone feeds their compost pile differently. Some, never at all. Eventually, it becomes fertilizer — it’s just for some of us, if you never touch it, you’ll be dead by the time it’s ready.

Me? I eat cake, write poetry, and play a shit ton of video games to digest mine. You can go to therapy to digest yours, or the amusement park. I recommend all of the above.

If you’re looking for the next big idea, stop going across town.

Importing stories that aren’t yours will not help you write. They won’t be authentic, and you’ll know it. Look towards your personal history, your passions, your concerns, your obsessions, and all these little details that shape your life.

I’ve often said write what you know, and I believe this wholeheartedly.

Thing is, the only thing you truly know is what you’ve lived.

This doesn’t mean you can’t write a stellar science fiction novel. Because you can, and even then, the story will be bits and pieces of who you are. Your novel will be a mix of your home life and your favorite stories. Each character you build will be aspects of your personality or the personality of people in your life.

While you’re sifting through your compost pile, consider that it takes a while for all of that to sit well — to ripen and mature. Sometimes, you’ll need to walk around in it for a while — Read, take some notes, and have a conversation.

You may not be able to write about events that happened yesterday or last year, depending on how painful it was.

Sometimes I’m in immense pain writing Scar Tissue, but I know that telling my story — talking about poverty, homelessness, and class warfare in America it’s equally good for me as it is for you, and that makes it worth it.

Write from your compost pile. It’s worth it.

 

Your Writing Has the Potential to Change the World

My latest ambition, Scar Tissue, has connected me with people from all over the world. Even before the project dropped on WordPress, my story reached thousands of people through various online platforms.

With a little bravery, my words begin to tell a story often untold. With a hunger for justice, my words influence what you know, what you believe, and what you think about extreme poverty, homelessness, and class warfare in America. With a single story, your actions begin to change. You interact with your community differently. You vote differently.

Now the same can be said overseas as well as right here at home. An old friend, and some new, reached out to translate my story into four different languages. Even now, an earlier version of Scar Tissue reaches beyond our borders — in fact,  my story is now being read in Russian and French.

When I consider how far my words have traveled, I realize it is my responsibility to take account for each word, each message, that I am sending.

I wholeheartedly believe you are also responsible for your words too. What will you do with your platform? What ripple will you send out into the ocean?

It takes very little effort to connect with the world.

If you know how to employ a few #tags, delve deep enough into the pits of Twitter or Reddit, you can find anyone, and anyone can find you. As terrifying as that may sound, think about how beautiful that actually is.

In the earliest stages of Scar Tissue, while the storm was still brewing, a dear friend of mine encouraged me to write my story. While barely staying afloat, plunging deeper and deeper into my sinkhole — just weeks after losing everything, he challenged me to write — to write until the story was brought into this world, until it was no longer just my pain, but something tangible, something I could hold, something I could own, then part with — and share with the world. He told me to start and not to stop until I was able to swim to the surface.

And, so, for weeks, I wrote. I wrote and did not stop. And, that is how the foundation of Scar Tissue came to be. Now, we’re breaking far beyond 100,000 words of unedited, unfiltered, pure grit and growth, imagery, narrative, and storytelling. This all began at a Starbucks a few blocks away from the homeless shelter I were sleeping at. Now, I continue to write new chapters, edit old ones, from an apartment in Brooklyn. And, well, the rest is history.

Just one story, that’s all it took, to put me in a position to influence change, both at the keyboard, and in my professional life.

Your words have an audience — your voice, a force strong enough to influence the world. What are you going to do with that power?

Poem: i fear — the awkward brown guy

I fear not knowing, I fear not trying,

I fear not growing, I fear not flying,

I fear staying still, I fear being alone,

I fear being attached all day to my phone.

I fear being judged, what others may think,

I fear not being able to afford holidays, or even the kitchen sink.

I fear feeling lost forever, I fear never growing up,

I fear being an adult, I fear feeling stuck.

I fear I won’t ever be the person I’m supposed to be,

Do the things I’m meant to do, to see what I’m supposed to be.

I fear I won’t ever find someone, who really really gets me,

Someone I can be myself with, and share my thoughts and feelings.

I fear I’m a bad person, that I’m somehow not worthy,

Of all the things I want and wish, of giving up on life too early.

I fear being a burden, my life coming to nothing,

So much potential yet nothing to show for, I fear not doing something.

I fear I’m just faking it, with no idea what I’m doing,

Watching others around me moving forward, laughing and smiling and joking,

Meanwhile, I? I really don’t know what I’m doing.

I fear not becoming who I’m meant to be,

And I fear that that will happen…

I fear the exposure that comes with recognition,

I fear achieving, I fear wasting, I fear not living, not doing

What I’m supposed to do.

Whatever the hell that is.

– – – – –

Written by,

Jas

aka: the awkward brown guy

Read more of his poetry here.

 

 

via Poem: i fear — the awkward brown guy

The Art of Storytelling

Some of us are born with it. The rest of us? We learn how to do it. The ones who work really hard, get damn good at it too!

At the center of all good writing, that stuff you just can’t put down, is always careful storytelling.  This is true for the blog post, the news story, or full-length novel.

If you’re like me, the pen started as, well, just a pen! Not a magic wand. It started with a desire to tell stories. I was bad at it, too. After several caffeinated nights at the keyboard, and a heavy dose of passion, and persistence, I learned how to tell a story. You can learn how to tell stories, too.

If you need a place to start, stick around. Here are six storytelling tips:

The 5 W’s & H

WHO is involved? Who are the main characters? Who are the supporting characters? What are their passions? Peeves? How is their relationship with their parents? Can you describe their personality?

WHAT is at stake? What is precious? What can be taken away?

WHERE is the story taking place? Look around you. In your mind’s eye. Are you surrounded by brick? Is this an urban oasis?

WHEN and WHY did certain things happen? While the when is important, and you’ll want to get that right, it’s the why that you need to be careful of.

Storytelling is about speaking the truth. So, when you begin to answer the why, think of real life. Consider real life conflicts and the reasons we face them.

HOW did a situation come about? HOW did matters get resolved?
Again, this is where you’ll want to think of real life. How do real conflicts come about? How do real conflicts get resolved?

What Was, What’s New, What Now

Be consistent about cause and effect. This is what moves the story along. At the end of each paragraph, at the beginning of each page, ask yourself:

What just happened?

What changed?

What happens next?

Show Don’t Tell

This is classic advice. This is neither the first time, or the last time, you’ll hear it, either. There are numerous benefits of showing, and not telling. Paint a picture for your reader. Let them in.  You want them to see what you see. Don’t tell the reader your character is devastated. Show them tears. Show them despair. Show them real life.

Quotes Bring The Reader In

I can’t stress this enough! When you quote your characters, you make them real. Again, when you quote your characters, you make them real. When you introduce dialogue into your scenes, you’re bringing your reader into the room, you’re bringing your reader front and center of that conversation.

Condense, Condense, Condense!

Say just enough. Not an ounce more. I know, this is hard. We just love to go on and on and on! However, you want to describe your story in a nut shell. Remember, if a story does not move along at a steady pace, our readers will fall off that rhythm, and they will lose interest.

Write tight! Concise is key. 

For most of us, we’re accustomed to over-writing. More often than not, students are tainted by Research Paper Writing Syndrome where we fluff our writing with filler material, fancy words, and blah-blahs. Don’t do this.

Rule of 3

Three is just enough. In fact, it’s the perfect amount! It forces us to simplify. It forces us to be deliberate about our word choice. Three defining qualities about a character. Three words to capture an object. What about the taste of that perfect slice of pie? Just three words.