kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings
Stephen King, On Writing
Today, one of my darlings got dumped out of a fishbowl. I watched it flop around on the counter until its little blue tail slapped its final splashy beat. With the click of the “Refresh” button, my darling was gone, along with the air from my lungs.
You’re probably wondering what I’m talking about.
You see, I’m an amateur fiction writer who went to school for journalism and came out a professional science writer. That evolution amounted to having the purple prose red-penned from my copies. Along the way, I found something more meaningful than metaphor, more precious than parallel structure: my voice. It’s clever and cultivated and a little off-kilter.
I’ve done some good work with this voice, truth be told. I opened a fairy-tale themed story on stem cells with a variation of a nursery rhyme:
This little stem cell became heart cells, this little stem cell made bone, this little stem cell had mutant genes, this little stem cell had none…
I executed a double entendre on aspiring athletes at risk for head injuries:
Their dreams need not be dashed, nor their brains for that matter.
I added a little flare to a boring, bad-news story on health disparities:
While Jasper in Pickens County boasts two parks and four grocery stores in its town center, 3rd Avenue runs through the middle of Chatsworth in Murray County like cholesterol through an artery.
So my weirdness hasn’t been entirely ill-received. On the other hand, some of my mind-nuggets have been nipped in the…nugget-bud, as it were.
There was the evisceration of my rhyming headline on Alzheimer’s research, for instance. A suggested subheading of mine on multiple organ dysfunction syndrome– “Insides Out-of-Whack”–was deemed insensitive. UGA’s news service didn’t think “Like Farmer, Like Son” was a good enough headline to describe research on kid’s emulation of parents when operating farm equipment.
It’s never fun, but I moved on.* But today’s edit stung a little because it happened post-publication.
There I was, sharing links to a story I was proud of with a headline I’d crafted with care. The story was about how zebrafish make for an excellent model organism–allowing scientists to observe life processes while they’re happening and apply their findings to human health. As it was originally published, the title of the story was “Fishing for Complements: Zebrafish as a Model Organism.”
That’s complements, not compliments, mind you. Complements. Meaning counterparts. Like what model organisms are to people.
Don’t get it? Neither did some people in my office. So, 24 hours after seeing the light of day, my story now faces the world as follows:
But… but… OK. I mean, what else is there to say?**
The big takeaway for me is this: Not everyone is going to like everything I come up with. Not everything I come up with is actually that great. But as long as I have breath in my lungs and fingers on the keys, I’m keeping my voice. It’s easier for editors to pull me back than to pry creativity out, I suppose. And if it weren’t for the things that make me special as a writer, I’d just be another fish in the C. I mean, the sea.
…Even I’ll admit that last one was just bad. Progress!
*And blogged my revenge that no one sees. Go first amendment!
**Other than the fact that, as it stands, this teaser gives no indication that this story is actually about zebrafish? Considering I start a new job in 6 days, I’m really not about to make a stink…so I’ll just leave it to fester…like, y’know, a dead fish.