Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Alphabet Juice

"Real writers are supposed to “murder their darlings” — that is, purge any vivid phrase that calls excessive attention to the author. This advice has been variously attributed to Twain, Faulkner, Hemingway, Orwell, Auden and others, but Blount traces it to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s 1916 book, “On the Art of Writing.” “Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — wholeheartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press: Murder your darlings,” Quiller-Couch wrote.

As one who labored for 15 years as an editor urging writers to birth their darlings and nurture them so that we would have something interesting to publish, I cheered after reading Blount’s critique of this maxim. What is “murder your darlings” but a giant, throbbing, attention-grabbing darling itself? Quiller-Couch could have written “kill your pets” or “eliminate your sweeties” if he was so keen on scrubbing his copy of brilliant phrases, Blount writes, demolishing the famous directive by quoting passages in its vicinity. They swarm with darlings!"