Killing Your Darlings With Coffee

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Today’s story begins with the phrase which had begun many a morning for me:

So I was in line at Starbucks.

Judge me. Go ahead. Because I’m sure you always have time to hunt down an indie coffee shop. I’m sure you and your indie-coffee-shop-finding buddies enjoy the sweet nectar of free-trade hubris in recyclable cups every morning, with a soupcon of disdain for people who don’t shop at farmer’s markets available in organic creamer-form on the dash.

No? Boo hoo.

Anyway, I was in line at Starbucks, and I noticed it was taking the guy in front of me a while to get his drink. Six or seven minutes sort of a while: in Starbucks language, that’s geological ages. Like, I was checking my phone wishing I could die.

When the barista was finally done sacrificing to the coffee gods, or whatever it is a barista has to do to produce a cupload of soylent coffee-substitute, I could see why. The thing that had been produced–this coffee-esque item–was a modern marvel. It had more sugary shit on top of it than Miley Cyrus after a night on the town. There were sugar drizzles, sugary whipped cream, flecks of sugar, chocolate sugar scrimbles. It was probably four thousand calories, and provided enough diabeetus to keep four third-world countries in insulin for the forseeable future. It probably had extra pumps in it.

(On a related note–why does it not bother people to order things with extra ‘pumps’ of stuff in them? Nothing natural–nothing–has ever been pumped into anything. Anyway.)

This quivering gelatinous pile of almost-coffee–this southern-style cream pie rendered as a potable liquid–this degenerate fuck-you to good taste and simple living on all seven continents–was picked up by its proud owner and, unceremoniously, slurped down on the way out the door.

As though he got one of those every morning.

As though it were perfectly normal–perfectly–to suck down a sugary showboat that took some poor kid seven minutes to make on the way to your car, balancing your phone in your other hand.

Now, don’t get me wrong–there are times when we all want a fancy ten-layer coffee beverage. There are times when even I, diabetic curmudgeon extraordinaire, am okay with paying eight dollars for a frappa-crappa-cuppa-zuppa-mocha-latte-hazelnut.

But these times aren’t every day. I want one of those maybe once every three months, and even then I usually ponder the craving for a month or so (‘how badly, really, do I want a diabetic coma?’). And I usually get a small. And I tip the poor barista.

My point:

Don’t listen to all those people who tell you whether or not to kill your sugary-sweet darlings. They don’t know what the hell your darlings are–you do. Some of them might have literary merit. Just like, sometimes, that ridiculous coffee confection is just the thing you want–sometimes, you need fillings and a serious sugar-coma.

Writing, my dears, is the Starbucks of the soul.

Most of the time, you should probably go for the plain black coffee of prose. A pack or two of sugar if that’s how you like it, some milk or creamer if you’re that sort of person. Nonetheless: plain coffee. It wakes you up. It gets the job done.
If you drink mostly plain coffee–if you keep your writing style simple and direct–it’ll only mean you appreciate your moments of prosey frappa-mocha-fucka-whatever better.

Because it’s hard to appreciate two pumps of extra whatever-you-pump when you’ve been having it every day.

And plain black coffee isn’t so bad–there’s a lot of subtle difference in plain black coffee. You might even argue, for that matter, that the person who can wax rhapsodic about a cup of plain black coffee is a gourmet–whereas the person who waxes rhapsodic about a cup of sugary, milky, coffee-putrescence is a future diabetic.

It’s up to you, of course, to decide what the appropriate amount of time between frappa-fuckas really is. But, believe me here–there is one. I know, I know, you’ve all heard that old adage, kill your darlings–it’s true. For the most part.

But if you kill all your darlings–if you drink nothing but black coffee from now until the end of time–I can’t help it, I find that a little sad. There’s a fun, sugary part of your soul that no one else will ever see again, that makes your writing what it is. And, sure, indulging in it too much is bad for you–but a little self-indulgence, from time to time, is medicine rather than murder.

The expression ‘kill your darlings’ teaches us, wrongly, that something is harmful to us just because we like it. And, like the Starbucks coffee, it certainly is, if we let it rule us–but if you use your darlings judiciously, if you pick the best of them and apply them with care, there’s no reason that bit you like shouldn’t stay in.

Just because you like it doesn’t mean you can’t make it work.

And in the end, you should be getting a second (or third, or fourth) opinion anyway. If they give your sugary baby the axe, maybe it’s not quite time yet. But if they don’t, let your darling live.

Because people who never ever get a frappuchino are just a little bit soulless. You need to play a little, give in to your cravings a little. They’re part, after all, of who you are.

Unless, of course, you hate frappuchinos. In which case: get one once. Just so you know. If you don’t break the rules ever, you’ll never know what happens when you do.

By the way, this whole post is me not killing a darling. There’s nothing we like over here in Emville like extended metaphors…regardless of how well they work.

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6 thoughts on “Killing Your Darlings With Coffee

  1. I hate Starbucks. Too damned slow and I don’t drink coffee, so I’m stuck waiting, waiting, WAITING for my wife.

    “This Starbucks is so fast!” – said nobody ever.

    And I ain’t calling anybody barista, even at gunpoint. It’s silly word. It may be British for “lawyer.” I’m not saying it.

    And I love my darlings enough to kill or not kill them as I please. I love them for a reason, and occasionally so does a reader and THAT is magic!

    If I can’t enjoy writing, why do it?

    1. My take on Starbucks is, essentially, this:

      If your coffee order is more complicated than your cocktail order, do the world a favor and become an alcoholic. 😛

      I kill my darlings, some of the time. I kill them because I recognize they don’t belong, or they don’t work, or I’d have to change something vital to the story to keep them. But if I can make it work, I will. Even if I’m not sure, I’ll keep it in until someone tells me to take it out.

      I’ve always felt the whole darling-killing thing is some of the most damaging advice to give newer writers. It’s tough, when you’re first starting out, to spot the difference between pointless self-indulgence and a gem. That’s why we have other people to read such things for us–they’re usually better at telling the difference than we are. 😛

    1. Y’know, your reply made me do some research–I was fairly sure it wasn’t King who said that first.

      It wasn’t–it was some guy named Arthur Quiller-Coach.

      Who I’ve never heard of.

      Perhaps my own ignorance is to blame, here…but I don’t think so. I blame the advice.

  2. Haha, I think it’s one of those quotes everyone’s had attributed to them. I’ve heard it’s from Faulkner too, and Oscar Wilde. The article I saw traced it back to the totally obscure Arthur Quiller-Coach, which suits my point pretty well, as no one’s heard of him.

    I’ll take King too, though. I’ll be honest, I like some of Stephen King’s stuff, but, well. No Nobel prize there. 🙂 I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I think about that fact every time someone trots out the old ‘road to hell is paved with adverbs’ nugget.

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