Your Achilles’ Heel

by Ian Clements


We all have one. That over, or under, indulgence that trips us up and lets our work down. For some writers it can be something as daft as wardrobe inventory: the insistence that we know what each character is wearing in a given scene. For others, it’s the inability to let all that research go to waste, so you end up reading two pages on the formation of Mossad when a paragraph would have better served.

I have a weakness for similies. I knew I loved them, even hoping that it might become my trademark as a writer, but it wasn’t until a recent critique that I realised how much. I read it back, there are too many but I can’t find any bad ones, like I’m someone searching for the runts of the litter. Hey, there I go again. Arthur Quller-Couch famously said of writing: “You must murder your darlings”. You can put metaphors and similies on the shelf, excise entire scenes to be re-framed in new work, but most likely you’ll forget about them and they’ll stay on the cutting room floor.

No matter what our individual weaknesses, we all hate to do that. Second and third drafts are brutal for me because it’s time to impose a sense of order. The words are there just doing their thing, like cute little cartoon bunnies hopping around, and I march through the middle, grabbing ones by their ears, flinging them across pages and forcing them to stand in line. It’s easy to delete bad writing, but a good barometer of how serious you are is the ability to write something brilliant, recognise that, and delete it anyway because it still doesn’t fit.

Murder your darlings, because if you don’t people will forget why they’re reading in the first place. A life is made more remarkable by moments of beauty, a life with nothing but beauty feels as false as a painted backdrop. People won’t trust you if you try to give them the latter, because it usually means you’re trying to sell them something.