losing everything

Years ago, starting out as a screenwriter, I heard over and over the apocryphal advice to writers –

“We must kill the thing we love.”

It took me awhile to figure out what it meant. Namely that the one scene in your script which you absolutely will not, can not, ever, conceive of getting rid of, of cutting, of losing – because it is so great, so perfect, so the-essence-of-what-a-good-or-even-great scene should be – may in fact be the scene which you will have to get rid of.  To cut.  Unsentimentally.  To kill.  To make your script ‘work’.

To make it come to life.

To truly transcend. To attain a level or a place you didn’t think possible.

Of course, I didn’t believe it.

Part of me still doesn’t.

It took me a long time to realize – and, yes, I’m still realizing it, as a writer, probably every day – the truth in it. That to really write well….I had to free myself from some fears.  Including the fear of losing something I wouldn’t let go of.  Now, as a writer, I have finally figured out – no, not past tense, let’s make that present tense, am figuring out, ever day – that I have to allow myself the freedom to write anything. And to cut anything.


To kill the thing I love.  Or don’t think I can do without.

Chuck Palahniuk, novelist, and a fine fucking writer, says a variartion of this truth in one of his books.

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”  (The Fight Club)

I think Tsunehisa Kimura, the Japanese artist who died in 2008, expressed something similar. Not in words, but in some of his arresting surreal images.

“Waterfall”, Tsunehisa Kimura

Kill the thing you love.

Lose everything.

Then sit down again at your typewriter and put another sheet of blank paper in.  Or, in this new millenium, open a fresh new virgin file in your word processing app. And see if the loss – the metaphorical murder – has opened a new door…..made a small tiny new connection among the millions of synapses that have to fire….

to write


w o r d s

6 comments on “losing everything

  1. Michael Part says:

    Thanks, Miguel. I needed to hear this today.

  2. You’re welcome, Michael.

  3. I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.
    Truman Capote

  4. Great quote, Roberto. Gracías!

  5. April says:

    I must admit that I came to this idea of cutting a scene, or something along those lines, more open to it than I initially thought I would. I had edited video for some time before getting back into writing and as much as I loved an edit or performance or scene, if it did not help the overall movie, I had to cut it and move forward. I’ve applied this to my writing. When you once told me a scene in my script wasn’t working and that I either had to seriously rewrite it or better yet cut it, I grabbed my pencil and slashed a big X over it… and you know what? the scene that replaced that one was far and away better because I was open to the possibilities instead of lamenting over the loss of this scene that I thought was great.

    Thank you for reminding me of this… it’s just what I need.

  6. I said that to you, April? Really? Damn. It’s so easy to tell colleagues, friends, students or fellow-travelers – so hard to tell oneself. Glad I helped, though. And – I’m pretty sure I wrote this post to try to remind myself of it, too. If I keep saying it….maybe I’ll actually do it. 😉

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