Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Little Something for My Goddess File

I once heard of a writer who kept something called a goddess file. Anytime she had a darling to kill--a gorgeous, gorgeous sentence or phrase or paragraph or scene that had to be cut for the good of the story--she clipped it and put it in her goddess file. On her darkest days, she looked through for proof of her writing genius.

I'm working on my Kmart story. I wrote a bit about Michael Jackson, decided it was too intrusive, and cut it. Sigh.

Do you remember Hemingway's Iceberg Theory? He said, "If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing."

So, the Michael Jackson part, which I'm pasting below, will have to stay under the surface.

Probably the older sister of the Lost Little Girl Family was asking her mama to buy her one of the Thriller t-shirts. Michael Jackson, dead almost two months now from do-it-yourself anesthesia.The girl was probably holding up a t-shirt commemorating an album released years and years before she was even born. And then, there’s the rest of us, the ones who saw him dancing with the zombies, the ones who saw the first moon-walk, who remember the Pepsi commercial, the chimpanzee. The ones who clucked our tongues and shuddered, both amused and horrified, this pale, skinny man in silk pajamas coming to court to answer the charges. Pedophile.

But damn, I told Thalia when the news reports first came in, when they were hunting down his Beverly Hills doctor, damn, I told her, could he dance. The creepy little high-pitched woman-man with his weird marriages and his white fetish and his Never-Land giraffes, he could dance. Like nobody else in this world, that man.


How does a writer know what to cut? Instinct, I say. Plus, a sort of pitiless honesty. It's a decent piece of writing, but it simply does not work for the story.

Okay, now. Back to it.

4 comments:

cathykidman.com said...

Thank you again for another great, helpful post! Love the Hemingway quote. Pitiless honesty. Love it. I have a file on my computer called "Lines to Save". Could use a funner name, but it serves its purpose. (And now I know what YOU were doing in the wee hours of the morning!)

Susan Woodring said...

Yes, me, too--love the Hemingway quote. Thanks for reading, Cathy. Would love to break in and take a look at your goddess file...

Tracy Crow said...

Love the Hemingway quote, Susan. In my writing, I lean toward being too sparse, I'm afraid. This is probably why I tend to feel my first drafts are so thin when I compare them to whatever published work I happen to be reading. Thank goodness, I love the revision process more than the first draft stage. :) Great post!

Susan Woodring said...

Yes, me, too--would much rather revise than draft. I love to work with what's already there, to experiment by adding bits and taking them away.

And, Tracy, you're right about the Hemingway. I need to frame the quote, tack it up above my computer...