Happy Valentine's, Darling?

From November 2014:*

I’ve spent the last week eyeballs glued to the computer screen editing a grant application. Which. In the long run could be a very big deal for my community. Which. In the long run would mean victims of sexual assault and domestic violence would access live-saving services better. Which is inspiring and needed and worth working for.

Which. In the short run means sculpting a true and compelling story out of 500 character slots and a budget question. Which means writing 1,500 words of stories you love and then deleting all but the four sentences you need to prove your claim. My day is spent ruthlessly slicing adverbs and eliminating oxford commas.

In some ways, editing is amazing. Sometimes it feels like archaeology: scraping away until this thing full of meaning emerges. Sometimes it feels like magic: well, mysterious, arduous, time-consuming magic, anyway.

The adage “Murder your darlings” comes to my mind.

Often attributed to William Faulkner, the advice most likely comes from writing expert Arthur Quiller-Couch in his 1913-1914 Cambridge lectures “On the Art of Writing.” Quiller-Couch proffered, “If you here require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this: ‘Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.” (See more here.)

I usually hear this phrase in my mother’s voice. As a research attorney turned yogi, she’s got a wide-ranging arsenal of maxims. Much to the chagrin of my adolescent self, this expression has stuck, perhaps because it’s the exact advice I struggle to put into practice, and perhaps because the image the phrase evokes is so alarming.

The notion, too, is arresting: the very phrases you’re most proud of yourself for conjuring up are most likely the ones you’ll have to, you should delete.

This seems especially true in grant-writing, which as I’m learning is not really about you the writer or your ability to create apt analogies and use GRE-worthy words. It’s about the narrative you can immediately and concretely convey. It’s an important skill that I’m glad to be building… but I’m also really enjoying not doing it right now.

In comparison, blog posts feel luxurious – here I have no mission except to process my experience and share with a hypothetical audience. What freedom! Look at how many adjectives I am using (Some of them even mean the same thing; they’re repetitive and inefficient! I might even make some up.); earlier I ended a sentence with a preposition. Here, you will find no vision statement or action plan. Weep on ye masters of succinct, practical writing: it’s grant season, and I aspire to develop your skills, but today’s post is full of darlings, alive, well, and decidedly un-murdered!

Happy Valentine's, Darling?

*I wrote this post in December and then delayed publishing it for another two months thinking that:

1). It echoes many of the same thoughts expressed by Catawba Lands Conservancy fellow and dear friend, Rebecca Mckee in her post, Writing Post-Davidson. (If you haven’t read her reflection yet, start there. My favorite of her observations begins, “Unsurprisingly, writing grants is a little different from writing that essay I wrote on the metaphorical significance of Lorca’s Yerma and my research paper on the adverse health effects of exposure to the pesticide, 1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane.”)

2). Who quotes hundred-year-old writing advice?

Then I decided that Rebecca wouldn’t care and that who am I kidding – this is a Davidson audience, a group uniquely equipped for a pithy remark from Academia. So … Happy Valentine’s Day, Darling!

css.php