Don’t Slay Your Darlings

I used to write for pleasure. Now I write for pay and pleasure. Which makes me sound a little bit like a whore–you know, one of those women who enjoys sex so much that she makes it a source of income. I don’t like that word (whore, that is, not income) and indeed, I think “choice” is a word that often disguises “no other way.” But in my case, and in regards to my writing, that is not true. I write by choice, but also because it is the only thing I prefer to do most of the time.

Discovering I like writing happened many years ago, I think, during one of those cliche moments we all have when we decide, ah ha! That’s it! I want to be a unicorn-ice-cream-fairy-ice-capade dancer! Or perhaps a robot-astronaut! But then it went away as many childhood dreams do and I moved onto more catchable dreams like becoming a medical office assistant or a bank teller.

I couldn’t write just because I enjoyed it, could I? Just because it enlightened me or dragged my shadow out into the light?

That wasn’t a job. That was an indulgent self-help activity.

But then I went to university and wrote a major research paper. And to reveal the filthy truth, I didn’t really care what social justice issue I was examining. I was writing and it was a requirement for passing the program. I was stuck to a chair for umpteen hours every day smashing out words in ideas and opinions that I later had to sculpt into colourless, objective results. And I was bug-eyed happy.

But there is an art in boring words too. I read stacks of research reports that were so dry my eyes bled just one paragraph in. There were a few gems though that leapt off the page and burrowed into my heart for the way that clever writer could so beautifully and skillfully sum up shredded wheat words.

In the end, I had this thick, juicy manuscript. Double-sided pages filled with Courier Sans typeface. The inky result of my brain’s 12-month ache and my heart’s 12-month home. It had a title page, a dedication, and a copyright symbol (which, in 2010, took far too long for me to sort out how to do). It had a bound hardcover and a gold-etched title. I was so freaking proud of this lifeforce throbbing in my hands.

After I defended it, I huddled into a public bathroom stall and balled my eyes out. And that was when I first realized how attached I am not just to the messy process of writing, but to what I produce. I’m as attached to it as I am my eyebrows and my false tooth (can you guess which one?) except that I think I’d rather write than forever hang onto my body hair or incisors if it meant I could never again pick up a pencil or pound the crap out of my keyboard.

Because my brain is a mess and writing helps organize what’s in there, kind of like an IKEA storage unit can make sense of a closet.

I pester my boyfriend all the time to please read my book. Read my blog. Read the copy I wrote about some obscure liver herbs, as if he should love my words as much as I do. Now, I know that some of my writing is crap (maybe this is too) and some of it’s good. Most of it falls somewhere in between. But it’s mine. It’s like all the little babies I’m never going to (choose to) have – they are words instead. Verses, paragraphs, ideas, jokes, musings, sentences that don’t make sense. Gorgeous little darlings that will grow, evolve, and expand if I give them light and allow them to be themselves.

Except lately, I’ve become offended when someone picks apart something I’ve written. It’s an insult to my children, to the loves of my life, that do nothing other than try to be something worthy. So clearly, there must be something wrong with me if my words are not coming out in a way that others can understand, relate to, love, want to roll themselves in. I will cower beneath the slap of criticism. But even worse, I’ll wither slowly and painfully away amid the absent breath of indifference.

I can change my words for public consumption, for clients who’ve paid for specific ones, for people who just want to believe that the world should be a happy place all the time and that we should try try try harder to be positive. And maybe my words will read sincere, but they won’t be. They’ll be silicone versions with eyelash extensions and slim, sick bodies. They’ll be smiles without eye creases. Pain without sorrow – the worst kind of pain.

That’s if I slay my little darlings to make them work for someone else.

There is writing to get better and there’s writing to release.

I release me, better or not.

5 thoughts on “Don’t Slay Your Darlings

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  1. Colleen your writing you can tell it like it is, and with a humor in it too…Love Bobbie♥️


  2. super love your darlings ms.colleen..there would never be positive without negative but we’ll always be on the bright side..keep it up, i knew u’r a fantastic writer eversince i saw ur 365 posts of post-it happiness on ur wall in waterplace,surabaya and miss u


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