One of the greatest gifts of writing is that I get to meet other writers who are fantastic, and then I get to share them with you. I ran across Amber’s writing a few months ago, and I found it hilarious, fresh, and hopeful. So I asked her to come hang over here today, and she said yes! I love her post below. I’ve found it to be utterly true in my own writing. Enjoy!
Kill Your Darlings, by Amber Salhus
For most of my life I did not consider myself a creative person.
I’m never the one to come up with a big idea. I’m not good at crafty things; not to mention I don’t even care for craft supplies. I cannot paint or draw. I cannot make music. I’m not even a good dancer. Unless you count car-dancing, which, I don’t mean to brag or anything, but I’m actually very good at because it only requires me to focus on half of my body at one time.
For the better part of my adult life, I’d completely accepted this lie about myself as truth. The lie that I’m not a creative person.
The truth is, I am a creative person.
There, I said it.
I’m creative with blank pages and words.
And while we’re on the subject, can we just go ahead and agree that all people everywhere are creative in one way or another? I mean, seriously. The God of the universe who wildly, romantically created things like sunsets and galaxies and springtime is the same God who chose, as his grand finale, to create us. In his image.
I’m pretty sure that means we are all creative too, whether or not we choose to acknowledge it or actually do anything with it.
YOU, by your very nature, are a creative person!
The moment I believed this to be true about myself was the moment everything began to change. Suddenly I was allowed in this club. Incidentally, the only way I knew I was ‘allowed’ in was because I decided to be. No one sent me a formal letter of acceptance into the Creatives Club. One day I just chose to take a seat at the table.
I was making my own art and I was putting it out there in the world! And it felt so freaking good.
The only problem was, as soon as I started identifying my words as my art I became rather attached to them. I was suddenly protective over every sentence. Every word felt in some way precious to me because I’d labored over it. I basically fell so in love with the whole process of writing that I completely forgot that editing is a vital part of that process.
I left nothing on the cutting room floor.
Slowly but surely I became less and less satisfied with my work. I would hit ‘publish’ on an essay and walk away with an unidentifiable chip on my shoulder. I couldn’t pinpoint what was bothering me, and as a result I started to struggle more and more with writing. I even stopped altogether for brief periods of time.
The temptation was to ignore the fact that I still had a lot to learn and to whine and complain about how hard writing is, how it takes so much from me, and to wonder why it’s obviously so much easier for everyone else.
The temptation was to resent the fact that making art and having a dream can often look a lot like doing the work.
Because talking to people always helps me sort things out for myself, I did what I always do, and I blurted out my concerns to all the people in my writing forums. I posed one of those impossible questions (a routine occurrence for me, by the way), about how to push myself to DO BETTER WORK without allowing the knowledge THAT MY WORK STILL NEEDS WORK to keep me from actually DOING THE WORK AT ALL. (I also like to use a lot of shouty capitals. Because, you know, feelings.)
“How do we reject stubbornness and insecurity about our art while still pushing hard for excellence?” I asked. “Write more freely? Edit more ruthlessly? Care more? Care less?”
My friend Aaron responded simply with, “Kill your darlings”.
He was quoting William Faulker to me and I simultaneously wanted to fight him and thank him for it. Which is usually how I know he’s right.
I’ve got to kill my darlings. I’ve got to be willing to get rid of my most precious and self-indulgent passages for the greater good of my overall work. If I ever want to be a serious writer- and I do, I must practice this discipline.
But I suppose in the end a ‘serious’ writer can’t actually take themself too seriously.
Art is art.
It’s all up for interpretation and delight and disdain.
In the end I can only write with abandon, edit without mercy, and then set my art free out in the world to be totally separate from my expectations of it.
It made me think how often it’s like that in life. I think I want something so badly; I become so attached to the idea of it that I refuse to kill my darlings, and in turn I often miss out on different or better things that God may have had waiting for me in the peripheral of my near-sighted vision.
I recently confessed that I want to write a book. It’s a dream that I can no longer seem to ignore. But my version of the dream and God’s version are likely very different. I know this.
I don’t want to miss out on the most exciting version of the dream because I’m so focused on the one that I’m trying to manufacture.
I want to have the courage to kill my darlings, both in my writing and in my roadmap for my life. Besides, doesn’t that sound more adventurous anyway? I don’t know about you, but I want to be more adventurous.
So here’s to us, dear creatives- and yes, that means you.
Here’s to killing our darlings in order to do better work.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to ruthlessly edit this post. Specifically, to decide if “themself” is really an acceptable gender-neutral reflexive pronoun? Probably not. (And how many parentheses are too many parentheses anyway?)
I’m working on it.
Amber Salhus lives in Oregon with her husband and two tiny tenders. She writes over at ambersalhus.com (Did I Shave My Legs For This?) where she is all about keeping it real, telling the honest truth, and finding the humor in all of it.