Killing Your Darlings: The Cure To Mental Stagnation

Mental stagnation: Staring at a screen for hours and days on end, wracking your brain to make a sentence, paragraph, or scene work.

The bane of the writer’s life.

It’s an obstacle that every creative person deals with. But how do we overcome it?

Well…in short, we kill it.

One of the more difficult aspects of writing is killing your darlings (KYD). I have an uncanny knack for spending too much time trying to force square pegs into round holes. I get fixated on a making a paragraph work, or trying to force a character to act a certain way in a scene; some insignificant piece will wedge itself in my mind and convince me that I have to make it work. Somehow, character X has to throw a fireball at character Y at this specific spot in the scene. I get so convinced that “It’s gotta be like this”, that I lose focus and enter into a state of mental stagnation.

It often happens when I’m mulling over a scene and particularly beautiful prose comes to mind, or I think of an interesting scene that I feel would fit well in a chapter. That’s when the fixation happens, and I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time trying to force it.

I don’t know how many times Lisa and I sat around a Starbucks table, pulling our hair (her hair, my beard), “knowing” that the sentence/paragraph we were working on needed just a little tweaking… More times than not we’d end up deleting the problematic sentence/paragraph and viola!

Sometimes we get so fixated on a single point, and can easily forget the general picture. When you find yourself fixated, spending too long trying to make a sentence work, “knowing” how your scene has to read instead of letting it flow; at that moment, take a step back and reevaluate your perspective. Ask yourself, “How integral is this specific wording to the story?”, and then try copying the troublesome text, cut, and paste it somewhere else, and see what happens.

Above all else, understand that forcing anything is like forcing a fart—it ain’t going to turn out pretty.

Click here for more on KYD.

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