Monday, July 7, 2014

Kill Your Babies In The Attic

    Attics are where old futures go to die.

    Heaped in the dust between the rafters, suitcases full of clothes vie with broken gadgets and tins of dried paint for a final moment in the broken roof tile spotlight.

    In their day, these abandoned knick-knacks were the latest thing, adorning your present moment dreams like balloons on a carnival float: the dress you would wear for your summer holiday, the DVD player for the kitchen TV, the bold yellow glow for the bathroom.

    Now they await their ultimate demise.

    As the dining room’s sulky green bundles through the attic door along with half a hoover, and later, more old pots and pans are piled on top of curtains, toys and partial dinner devices, the available space in the triangular tomb between your life and the sky diminishes.

    And so you must choose.

    Which old futures are the least resurrectable?

    What new futures are suggested by the choices you make?

    Every time you throw away a pair of flared trousers to clear space for a broken Finding Nemo eggcup you are saying maybe in the future I won’t make it as a ballet supremo after all but if I sit for a week with a tube of superglue perhaps I can get back into the fun boiled egg thing again.

    As writers we are told to “kill our babies” — an act of prudent sifting and sorting that shares space on the same metaphorical futon as clearing out your attic.

    What’s in?  Now?  What’s out?  Now?

    When you pluck work-in-progress material from your drawer for a rewrite or edit — stuff you drafted or channelled from the spirits of the dead weeks or months ago, then left to marinade, like a good boy or girl — how do you know which paragraphs or phrases are babies and which are merely bathwater?

    Like the clothes and gadgets and paint in the attic, these words you wrote were once fresh and vibrant.  When the tip of your pen-brain blazed across the paper, the shapes they made glowed like sparkler trails.

    Now, maybe all is dust.  Spent gunpowder.

    So do you stick with the words forged in the fire of zest? Or are these precisely the phrases and lines to cut to the slick?  The ones whose adrenaline ink deluded you?

    All I know is, there is no Golden Rule.

    No THIS OUT or THIS IN that applies to every piece of writing, every writer.

    The only things you have to go when you pluck material from your drawer are:

    1) the passage of time,


    2) your relationship to your inner triangular tomb.

    You put all the stuff up there in that dusty nowhere space, in fits and starts and dribs and drabs and every shade of gadget-pantery — and now it’s time for a clear out based on what you believe must happen next.

    As I see this stage in the process, talk of slaying infants simply doesn’t figure.

    So I proffer the image of an attic from the comfort of my metaphorical futon.

    Could be a “kill your babies” killer.

Note: My advice also aplies to "darlings" — but this was less easy on the comedy illo.

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