Continuing this series of “critiquing the critics” of 10 widely accepted rules of writing identified by Writer’s Digest, we’re up to rule 6, which is difficult to apply to a memoir. The rule, “kill your darlings,” advises writers to be careful about including anything that doesn’t really belong in your book. These rules, though, address fiction, and this one applies to furthering the plot and developing characters. If a sentence or more does neither of those, even if that passage is one of your favorite “darlings,” maybe you should let it go. But you’re not writing fiction; you’re writing a memoir. Your life doesn’t follow a script or plot line.
Even regarding fiction, writer and writing commentator N.M. Kelby argues both sides of the issue. On one hand, she suggests, “Think of your work as a producer thinks of a film. Words are like money. Spend them wisely. Each scene and actor is expensive, and so you must include only what you really need to tell your tale. And if you find yourself saying, ‘But I love this idea!’ that should be the first thing to become suspect.”
Then on the other hand, Kelby finds reasons for breaking this rule. “This approach to editing is the most dangerous tool in your repertoire,” she says. “We write for the beauty of the well-turned phrase and the surprise of unexpected wisdom.”
I have to agree with breaking this rule. Sometimes the off-the-topic paragraphs or chapters become readers’ favorite parts. Don’t throw in every boring detail of your life, but your thoughts and some minor events that you think are special should go in there if you think that your grandchildren and other readers will be interested in hearing about them. Memoirs are for posterity even more than for entertainment.