KILL YOUR DARLINGS – advice given by authors from Chekhov to Stephen King –isn’t an order to murder, but to delete self-indulgent words clogging your prose. It’s advice’ve given to my writing students – and to myself.
In fact, I’ve often said that revision is the most enjoyable part of writing. You can take those words you’ve written and add, delete, turn around and presto – your manuscript is less cluttered and reads better. Sort of literary feng shui.
But in the past few months I’ve turned to something that makes ordinary revising look like kindergarten play. It first happened with an autobiographical poem I wrote about caregiving. Although I believe my prose is generally better than my poetry, I did take pride in the emotion that the poem allowed. Editors, however, did not share my view. Rejection after rejection.
I put the poem in the discard file (in my head, not in my desk). But I hated to give up. One day had an arresting thought: Since I’ve published so many short stories, why not see if I could convert the poem into a story? As I did, it took the form of a mood piece. With a “why not?”attitude, I sent it to a magazine, where it was instantly accepted..
This was a startling discovery, that revision could involve total transformation. So now I’m working on a second attempt. Months ago I wrote an essay-style piece about the tragic young hero of a popular British poem titled “Casabianca” by Felicia Hemans. It begins with “The boy stood on the burning deck”. (When I quoted that line to my younger students they looked at me blankly. .But school- children tin the mid-20th century were routinely told to memorize the poem.) My prose revision aligned the boy’s lonely stand on a sinking ship with my personal feelings about being alone with my “ailing mate.” Predictably, since the piece didn’t fit any category, it was widely rejected.
So – as you can guess – I thought: why not go the opposite way- convert my prose into a lengthy poem? I began, but it seemed impossible, especially since I needed to avoid copying the original poem. However, determination being 98% of success, I kept going. I now have a two-page. poem. To my surprise, the poetic version reads better than the prose, getting rid of extraneous words.
Will it be published? Stay tuned! But it does convince me that it’s possible to convert a “failed” piece of writing into to more successful – and more marketable – form. of course not every story lends itself to poetry, and vice versa. And there may be twists and turns that make your piece feel unrecognizable. But it can be a rewarding escape route out of a dead-end.
BOOKS:: “Widow’s Walk” – available through iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow”- Xlibris..com; “Ten Women of Valorr” and “Role Play”- both through Amazon.com and Amazon Kindle.