Looking back at my Writer’s Notebook – Part Three

This week I’ll be sharing notes from a workshop on editing between drafts.

Over the last two weeks I’ve been going through my first writer’s notebook and rediscovering my musings on improving my manuscripts, and sharing dot points from seminars I attended on writing. Today’s blog is a hybrid of the two from an author who I, for some reason, didn’t write down the name of. She was giving this workshop as part of the Sydney Writer’s Festival.

Brett went to a lot of trouble with his gift, completing it with an engraved pen with the inscription ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’.

The words ‘murder your darlings’ are written in capital letters at the top of the page. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard these words and we all know how true these are. Two quotes follow this fundamental rule:

“Human language is like a cracked kettledrum on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when what we want to do is make music that will move the stars to pity.” – Gustave Flaubert

“My language is a universal whore whom I must make into a virgin.” – Karl Kraus

While the second quote is harsh and misogynistic, the first point is:

  • Rewriting turns a whore into a virgin.

The rest of the points are not as, well, questionable.

  • We can only ever reread a text as we’re putting it together again as we read.
  • We need to develop distance from our work, so we can read it as the reader. Minimum – three months.
  • Print it out in a different font and read it in another room or another place. Somewhere where you haven’t worked on it.
  • Watch for adjectives and adverbs. Cross them out after the first draft and only put one or two in if needed.
  • The reader needs room for their own imagination to tell them the story. The author has to step back and give just enough for the reader to fill in the gaps. This includes character descriptions.
  • Be like God, but don’t appear like God.
  • If there is no journey of discovery for you, there won’t be for the reader.

Right at this moment while I’m writing this blog, a friend has shown up on our doorstep, so this is where I’ll end the rediscovery of my notebook.

Looking ahead, there are notes on my third book, character breakdowns of my my sci-fi novel, and more from writing workshops. I’ll share more of the good stuff next week.

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