Other writers did readings, and told excellent, entertaining stories. And some of them told me about stories that had sat on their hard drive for years or decades even before they finally were sent out and sold.
We are not good judges of the quality levels of our stories. I’ve talked before that writers need a certain amount of arrogance just to get their work out there. But at the same time, most of us are the most self-critical and insecure people imaginable.
We need both parts of our makeup at different times in our story’s lifecycle. When we are writing, we need to be stupidly self-confident. When we are editing, we need to be viciously critical. And, this is important, after we do a revision pass, we need to go back to that state of stubborn, stupid confidence when it comes time to send it out.
Yes, by all means, cut out favorite scenes that don’t advance the plot, especially if they were fun to write. Or if they’ll amuse your critique group. Or if they contain inside jokes. The phrase ‘kill your darlings’ is very appropriate. Every scene needs to serve the story. Every scene needs to advance the plot, develop the world, grow your character. If they don’t do all three, then the scene needs to change, combine with another scene* or get killed entirely. When you are revising, you need to be cold and brutal, a calculating killer of words and scenes.
But you can take that too far. When you’ve done your revision, you may end up looking at your story and thinking: ‘this is terrible’, ‘this will never sell’, ‘no one will find this amusing/arousing/exciting/intriguing/etc..’ Then you take the story and put it away. You try to tell yourself that, at best, you’ll try to learn from your “failure”. You haven’t failed. You haven’t failed unless you don’t send it out. Then, yes, you’ve failed. You’ve given up. You’ve killed your story.
Don’t kill your stories. When you first had that idea, that spark, that ‘what if…’ moment, you conceived of your story. When you wrote it, you gave birth to it. You loved that story, once. Love it enough to send it out and see if, like you, someone else may love it, too. Don’t stay in that self-critical mindset. Reconnect to that feeling you first had, that made you want to write the story in the first place.
A lot of writers, including some at the Rainforest Writers Retreat, call their stories ‘Their Children’. Yes, edit your stories, yes be critical of your favorite characters, scenes, what have you. But don’t judge your own work. That’s what editors and, ultimately, readers will do.
Kill your darlings, not your babies.
*Still haven’t mastered this one. Feels weird just thinking about it but everyone swears by it. Maybe some of you can try it and tell me how you did it.