It’s a Bit Drafty in Here.

In writing, you must kill all your darlings.—William Faulkner

…and dozens of authors who said something similar about rewriting being the name of the game.

Rewriting is my least favorite part of the process.  I love the initial burst of creativity, the ideas flowing just a bit faster than my typing ability, that feeling of accomplishment when I save the document at the end of a writing session.

It doesn’t end there, though.  I have to take it to workshop, where the story gets picked apart on every level: story as a whole, paragraph, sentence, down to a single word.  I take that advice to heart and consider all possibilities to make it the best it can possibly be.  That’s where Faulkner comes in.

The advice to “kill your darlings” is not about dead characters—although I’ve got plenty of those—but rather to not fall so in love with any part of your writing that you can’t objectively judge its role in the completed story.  That sentence may be great, it could be pure poetry, but does it really belong?

There was a discussion in workshop the other day about what people do with these excised bits.  Some think of them as being in a graveyard.  I call that place The Vault.

I save every draft of everything I write, no matter how bad it is, because there might be something I can use in the future somewhere.  A particular sentence, maybe the germ of an idea.  I’ve got tons of drafts and a few completed stories.

I’m a word hoarder, because “I’m totally going to use that someday.”

And my words won’t eat me if I die in my sleep.

Here are some scraps:

In 1978, when I was seven and a half and going into second grade, my parents joined the Urban Exodus, crudely known as “White Flight”, and left Sacramento, buying property in Galt, California.

We were the suburbanites running away from the rot of urban life, the violence that was growing towards us, the drugs that were thought of as nothing more than a hippy pastime only a few years before, we who would try to recreate that abandoned suburbia, but with more breathing room.

Now, these are actually from two different creative non-fiction pieces.  One I never finished, the other I submitted and had rejected.  Where I will use them, I don’t know, but they might be useful somewhere, someday.  Maybe not, but what if I throw them away and need them later?

I’d like to look at an example of how this works in the world of music, because I love music, as you probably know by now.

In the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of reissues of classic albums with expanded editions, including demos of songs that were not released on the album or else were drastically changed.  I found something very interesting from Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.

We actually have to go back a bit, to before Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined the group.  They released an album in 1973, which featured this song, Lola (My Love).  Pay special attention to the intro. And enjoy a young Stevie Nicks showing you some sideboob.

Back to the Rumours demos.  This song from Christine McVie, Keep Me There, didn’t make the cut, and for some reason was never rerecorded for any Fleetwood Mac or solo McVie album, and I don’t know why.  It’s a great song.  (If you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing, jump to the 2:30 mark and listen for a few seconds.  You’ll get the idea.)

The next demo is an acoustic number by Stevie Nicks, called The Chain.  No, not that song.  Well, kind of. Listen through the chorus, which starts at about 1:20, for those of you who are in a hurry.

The final product is the song that we now know as The Chain.  The intro to Lola (My Love) was reworked and rerecorded, the original of The Chain was rewritten and recorded with added lyrics and different music, and the ending of Keep Me There was added by cutting the tape and tacking it onto the end of the newly recorded material.

Which goes to show that nobody craps out a masterpiece.

Those bits and pieces ended up as this, and if you haven’t heard it, welcome back from Siberia.

By the way, and going back to that earlier sampling of snippets of unused writing, I remember listening to this song in my mom’s car on 8-track around that time.  I especially loved that I could sing along to “Damn your love, damn your lies” and Mom didn’t object.  I guess song lyrics didn’t count as swearing.

Thanks for reading, thanks for listening.  I’ll be back at the end of the month.  I’m going on a paycheck schedule, so you’ll see me in the middle and at the end of the month.  Lots of writing, lots of reading, and I do have a day job, you know.

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4 Responses to It’s a Bit Drafty in Here.

  1. Jim says:

    Great post! I like how you made your point about saving your “tossed out” writings by using the Fleetwood Mac stuff as an example. Very interesting to see how that song developed. The song “Keep Me There” also used the same music as the chorus for “The Chain”.

    “nobody craps out a masterpiece” BRILLIANT!

    • Thanks.

      It’s cool to see this nowadays with lots of groups. 10,000 Maniacs had an entire demo rejected by the label and most of those songs appeared later in different forms over the years. Mitchell Froom took bits of songs that Neil Finn didn’t know what to do with and pieced them together for several Crowded House songs. And Butthole Surfers’ classic Locust Abortion Technician used the same bits in different forms across the album.

      Visual artists do this, as well. There’s a quote I read somewhere, “That bit of red I take away appears later in another painting.” I think it was Picasso, but don’t hold me to that.

  2. I’m just here for the sideboob.

    OKAY OKAY also because Darling murdering is one of the things I’m worst at. I don’t kill them entirely. I tranquilize them and store them in my basement, so I can go view them at my leisure when I feel wistful.

    I have a subfolder in my writing folder entitled “Oh Sweet Jesus What Was I Thinking?”

  3. Great post, George. Just stopping by from Katie’s blog. I will divulge a secret. I am one of those geeks who prefer the editing to the rough draft. I save all my old stuff. And I really have pulled bits and pieces out and used them. Recycling is good for the literary economy, I always say.
    Looking forward to reading about your writing process next week.

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