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Scott Lax Blog

Last Class I'll be Teaching for at Least a Year

It seems that this blog gets quite a few more hits than the other pages on my site, so if you're interested in taking the last workshop class I'll be teaching for at least a year, please hit the Educational Services link, above. After this workshop I will sometimes be available for manuscript consultations.

The Meaning of "Murder Your Darlings"

There's an expression that's bandied about at writing classes and other literary gatherings. It's this: "Murder your darlings." It's often misunderstood and misquoted (its bogus variations are many and often funny), but that's the quotation, according to The Paris Review's THE WRITER'S CHAPBOOK.

The author of that quote is G.K.Chesterton. Here's what it means to me: the parts of your writing that you fall in love with are the very same things you might want to sleep on, or consider for a longer while, before you leave them in. They're often overly emotional, or sentimental, or clever, or snarky words; or any number of things that don't serve the writing, the story. You may be over-explaining in a way that you think is elegant and brilliant, but that bogs down the story and insults the reader's intelligence by essentially providing an intellectual spoiler -- by telling your reader what to think.

If you write a sentence that you think is brilliant or witty or wise, but it doesn't serve the story, cut it...murder it, in other words. You can always save your darling on the shelf, in a computer file, or a notebook or stack of scrap paper. But get rid of it in your creative writing.

So there you go. The answer to one of the most misunderstood quotations in English literature. It doesn't refer to killing off characters, or any other weird interpretations. It's simply looking at that in your writing that you have fallen in love with, and asking yourself if it really needs to be there, or if you just like the sound of it. Or worse, if you're showing off, for any reason: your knowledge, your wit, your unique perspective.

Since I bash Twitter on a regular basis, I'll relate it to Twitter: Ninety-eight percent of what is on Twitter is "darling" writing. It ought to be cut, or never published, or relegated to one's diary, where it can rest comfortably, away from the eyes of an increasingly illiterate and overly-accepting reading public. "I had eight big fatty pieces of bacon today!" isn't literature; it's bad writing. And bad eating.  Read More 

When Writers Jump the Tweet

This quote reminds me of writers that do more twittering than actual writing: "Desperate writers, who once by their cries of agony wrung tears from tender-hearted readers, come to prefer the glittering smiles of hostesses as hard as their marble mantelpieces." - Logan Pearsall Smith. (1865 – 1946)

I'll paraphrase, with apologies to the late Mr. Smith: "Desperate writers, who once by their cries of agony wrung tears from tender-hearted readers, come to prefer the sycophantic re-tweets of readers of their tweets, whose own tweets are as substantive as the ether through which they travel."

I'm talking about serious creative writers here, not those who use Twitter for marketing or promotion or fun. That's all well and good. Serious creative writers, though, are wasting their brain cells on twittering to readers that simply want to be that hostess with the glittering smile, that simply want to think they are connected to creativity, without actually producing anything.  Read More 

Academia and Writing

Today's New York Times asks the question, in an article called, "Naive Reading": Have critical theory and the use of the sciences in the study of literature gone too far?

The answer is, "Yes."

Academia feeds upon itself, particularly in the area of literature. It's self-involved, self-important, and self-sustaining. It produces too many untalented writers through MFA programs; it often encourages "close reading" and analyzing of texts that are far beyond what the author intended or cared about.

But it does give people tenure, and a salary with benefits, and it perpetuates itself, like some kind of ubiquitous mold.

There are a few great writers in academia. Most are outside of it. Beware the frustrated literature or writing professor. If you want to write, read writing you love and try to grasp what the author is doing and then write and write and write some more.

If you want to understand literature, read it. And ask your head, and equally, your heart, what is says to you.  Read More 

Writing New Worlds

I'm on assignment now to write a document for a very large, international institution, one that is dedicated to peace and justice. (I don't divulge private clients of this sort, so that will have to do.)

What being a freelance writer may lack in job security, it sometimes makes up for in finding and writing about noble and important people and entities. Sometimes, words we write, often in collaboration with great minds and good people, as I am doing now, can even makes a difference in thousands of lives, if not more.

If you're a writer, maybe that's some small comfort. Words have changed literature and education, of course, but also religion, justice movements, history. Once in a while, as writers, we can be a small part of that. And sometimes that is enough.  Read More