One of the things that sometimes gets to me about “how to write” advice is that it makes writing sound so … unpleasant. “Kill your darlings” is such iconic advice that most writer-type people have heard of it — i.e. don’t let affection prevent you from cutting out a favorite sentence or subplot or character. I have read tons of how-to articles and blog posts and books that talk in great detail about how difficult and harrowing writing is. They hammer home the importance of writing even when you don’t want to, the value of being willing to destroy what you create in order to make it better.
But there’s precious little writing advice that makes writing sound fun. There’s lots of advice about being cruel (or at least realistic) with your writer-self, but not much that’s aimed at nurturing and supporting the part of you that just wants to pour your heart out onto the page. Instead you get a lot of people telling you that’s exactly what you shouldn’t do. Self-indulgent writing is bad writing, they say. Kill your darlings. If you love it, then you have to look at it extra carefully, because it may serve no story purpose and therefore has to go.
… which is not precisely wrong, but it’s a little wrong-headed, I think. Or at least one-sided. There is certainly a need for that kind of writing advice, but there should be something else to balance it. I want shelves of books that talk about writing as play (and how to keep it playful), reams of blog posts that point out that writing what you love is the best way to make your readers fall in love with it too, tons of articles that advise you not to kill your darlings because if you love it, you probably love it for a reason, and your readers will probably love it for the same reason.
It would be as if love was portrayed (in fiction and nonfiction) as something universally difficult and painful, as if all advice to aspiring lovers talked about how important it is not to let one’s passion overtake one’s common sense, rather than (say) how to court and win one’s beloved. It’s not 100% wrong (love can be cruel!) … but it’s not the only face love has to offer. And we live in a world that offers writers very little romance for their own relationship with their characters. If you fall in unconditional love with your characters yourself, your reader just might be swept along — and you’ll have the time of your life. It’s okay to embrace your own love for self-indulgent tropes (marriage of convenience! lost in the wilderness! cuddling for warmth!). Not every reader will love them, but there are people out there who have been craving it and never getting it, who will fall all over themselves to cuddle up to your book and let it warm the cold place in their heart.
Sure, there’s a valid place in the world for beautiful prose and gorgeously crafted fiction. There’s also an equally valid place for idfic bleeding purple prose all over the place. I grew up in the ’80s, and I don’t know very many other ’80s girls who didn’t adore some subset of Anne McCaffrey, Mercedes Lackey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, and others of their general type.
These books haven’t worn well. I find them hard to reread today. “But the prose is not technically sophisticated,” my writer brain wails. “Why is that subplot in there? Oh God, this is so embarrassing!”
But some of the things that make them embarrassing now were exactly what made me fall in love with them at age 15. There is no doubt in my mind that the author was probably having a really amazing time writing the same scenes that I read over and over as a teenager. They’re not Pulitzer material, but something about them made a lot of readers fall in love with them, and maybe recognize a little of her/himself in them, if only to say “I thought I was the only person who fantasized about that!”
When it comes right down to it, I guess I’d rather write books that are loved than books that win awards and get glowing reviews. (I mean, obviously I’d like to do both, but if I had to pick one or the other …) And the stories I love most are the ones that just fell out of my head, the ones that I unabashedly fell in love with, the ones that I will fight for, tooth and nail, because I believe in them. Kill my darlings, indeed. They are my darlings for good reason.