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Monday, November 9, 2009

Slaughter Your Darlings

I have a gallon of hot pink mouse paint and I'm determined to use it, somewhere, sometime. I feel compulsive about it, the paint cannot go to waste. It's free paint! I have to use it.( Does anyone who lives in Austin want a gallon of hot pink paint? Come get it. It must be used.)

Yesterday I decided to paint one bathroom wall with it. It looked terrible, so I sponged over it with a navy blue faux glaze. That looked terrible, so I sponged over that with a green grey glaze, imagining a weird, shimmery tri color effect. It hurts my eyes now. It's terrible. I may paint it white again later today.

I spent the morning crying because of a phone call. I try not to have expectations of life. I feel like the less you expect, the happier you will be.

"I'm still alive!" If you think this way at the end of each day, instead of focusing on anything that didn't go your way, you feel lucky. It doesn't always work.
I tried to to have high expectations when the agent who had been promising to read my book for three months emailed me last week.

"I'm amazed at how beautiful your writing style is. You present an evocative world for your readers. I see some problems but they are small and fixable. Let's set up a phone meeting." ( I don't know what 'evocative' means, really, but it sounds so positive.)

I am currently attempting to practice detachment, so I 'let go' thinking about how the last book this particular agent picked ended up on the Oprah's bestseller list, how I cried when I read that book because it was so beautifully written, so perfect. How wonderful it would be to work with someone who had the insight to pick such a book.

"I am lucky today, I am still alive." I thought to myself all weekend. Let go. No expectations.

But it's hard to do, really.

This morning we had our "phone meeting"( anytime I am invited to a 'meeting' I feel the same way that I do when I wear high heels-like a grown up)
"I'm amazed that you haven't had formal training." she said."Your writing style is like a painting, it really drew me in,"


"It meanders. It has no formal structure. You need to shorten the time frame and give your readers a more definite beginning, a middle, a climax, and a resolution. It contains too much that isn't vital to the plot. I don't know how to market this book. If you make these changes, send it to me again. I'm really interested in this book."

So, good, bad, what is it? Both.
She may be right.

"She is wrong." said my editor, who I called immediately, sniffling."Fight for your book. Find another agent. Remember Confederacy of Dunces? Who the hell is she? Find someone else."
My editor, by the way, has cancer in both breasts. She is scheduled for surgery in a week, a double masectomy. Yet she took an hour to listen to me whine about this, to sympathyse and commiserate with me.( Get it into perspective, I told myself silently. Seriously)

But she's a marketing genius! And maybe she's right! I don't know!

An artist I knew, a brilliantly talented pastel painter, said to me once-" In order to be great and not just good, you have to be willing to slaughter your darlings."
Meaning-you have to remain detached. You have to be willing to paint over that perfect tree you just did if you stand back and see that it distracts from the rest of the painting. You have to be willing to cut out your best writing if it cripples the rest of your book.

I get that. I remember that advice every time I make any kind of art.

So I opened up Word and cut everything the Agent told me to. It amounted to 2/3 of the book. 2/3 of what I spent two and a half years writing. 2/3 of a story that is woefully incomplete without it's remainder. The soul of the book. Cut.
If I take the Agents advice I'm committing myself to spending at least six months rewriting, maybe more. I'm altering the story I'm trying to tell into a completely different one.
But she may be right. I don't know.

So the process reminds me of the wall I am painting in the bathroom. Paint the wall, finish. It's not right. Paint it again, and again, and again, and maybe just back to white and start all over. Either way, I'm going back to the drawing board somehow-by rewriting the whole book or waiting another three months for another agent to read it-maybe for them to say the same thing. It takes an incredible amount of detachment to go through this process over and over.

"Why am I doing this?" I asked Jeff today through my tears."It sucks."
"You make art, you have to show it to people."
"I'm just going to put the whole stupid thing on my blog. There are a hundred people on there who would like it."
"Don't do anything compulsive like you did with the bathroom Sunny."

So I won't. I am practising detachment. I am, every moment, remembering how small my problems really are and how lucky I am to still be alive at the end of each day.

And after a while, I'll repaint the wall white again.


  1. Advice usually sucks but here's some anyway: don't make all the changes she reccomended. In my experience, if you make half of the changes, it will be more of what you want and more of what they want and everybody will be happy.

  2. Sunny - it is good news - not perfect news - and not the news you (and many of us) were hoping for today, but, I look forward to seeing your book on shelves in bookstores everywhere - IT WILL HAPPEN!

    Nevertheless, I'm sorry that you had to be disappointed today. I would imagine that most, (if not all), succcessful writers were in your shoes at some point.

    Love, Lynne

  3. Maybe i am overly emotional today but reading this post made me cry too, Sunny. You are brave and beautiful and just because you slaughter the darlings doesn't mean they are dead. you created life with the stories and they live on-- somewhere!

    have you read about rosetti and his model lizzy siddal? he buried his only copy of some poems with her when she died and they haunted him. so seven years later he had her exhumed to get the poems back (buried in her coppery hair!) and they weren't as great as he thought. then he felt guilty about digging up the dead.

    i support the f*ck out of you and will buy whatever the finished product turns out to be. i'll also keep reading about the process... you're wonderful.

  4. I hurt for you... you don't have to do anything right now do you? Can you take the time to think it over, only you know what you are willing to do, can do and will do. Do you respect this person? Value their opinion? I'm not knowledgeable about the publishing world, I love books, I'd rather spend my money on books than food but I have no clue how they get on that shelf. Can you do both, start your rewrite but also have someone else look at it?

  5. yes I can do all of those things, some very good ideas actually. I looked at it again this morning and I was maybe being dramatic. It's not 2/3, its about half, and I can do it if I decide to. It could even be fun, having a structure to work within. I have called emailed all the published authors I know, they all say-"I don't know! She could be right! It sucks doing this work, right?" or something along those lines. It's a good problem to have, I've decided to get excited about it.

  6. To Gretchen who left the post yesterday-
    would you email me at I have a favor to ask,