That Bit’s Gone

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Steve Martin recorded a Master Class. It’s like ninety bucks, which is a screaming deal, but if you’d rather buy groceries this week, just watch the trailer! He has a great line where he’s counseling some wanna-be comedians and tells them that if a bit they’ve written gets no laughs, to cut that bit for the following performance. “That bit’s gone,” he says. And they all nod, trying to not to appear shocked and appalled. “But I worked so hard on it and my mom/high roommate/girlfriend loved it!” they’re thinking.

That’s what “kill your darlings” means. It does not mean you go through your manuscript and find the beautiful bits and cut them off at the knees because they’re beautiful. It means, if a bit is not working—if it does not set the scene, describe your setting, reveal your character’s inner fear, make you worry about the villain, wonder about the hero—if it does not get the laugh, it goes. The constant work of improving your craft means you hold your entire manuscript (or comedy routine, or landscaping schematic, etc.) with an open hand. Your goal is to emotionally connect with another human being, so you’ve got to be willing to cut and mold and shape and twist your story until it does what it says on the tin: entertain.

Like this one time (she lies: correct count is 7 times) I had a dream about something and wrote a novel/wrote a scene/invented a character based on it. And every single time, that’s what ends up being cut. And it’s so annoying because I totally want to be in an interview someday and they’re like, “How did you come up with this brilliant idea?” and I’m like, “It came to me in a dream.” Alas, those dreamy darlings always hit the cutting room floor. The trick is, you have to know your target before you can kill it, as any good murderer knows. Let other people read your stuff and then read their stuff back. It’s often easier to spot other people’s darlings than your own. And then get rid of it! AND MOVE ON. You will write a better bit than that.

Anyway, I think Steve Martin is the bee’s knees.

Also, I hate blogging. I do. I like shouting witty things into the void, but it all feels very iffy, like meringue before it goes in the oven. So if anyone has any questions, about writing or parenting or being in love or making a homemade sled out of a piece of cardboard and a contractor bag, go ahead and ask. I’m your girl.