Literary Exorcism: 5 Songs to Fight the Demons in Your Prose

Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke

By Daniel Ford

Nothing helps your editing process more than stepping away from your prose for a bit and coming back with fresh eyes.

Unfortunately, what you return to might be a raging dumpster fire. That means the editing could torture you more than the initial writing.

Author Rory Quinn said something recently that stuck with me: “Learning to be your own most brutal editor isn't easy, but it is absolutely necessary.”

These five tunes should ease your pain:

“A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke

Lyrics for writers: “It's been a long, a long time coming/But I know a change gon' come, oh yes it will.”

Using the above Sam Cooke lyrics as an editing mantra is a good place to start. Editing requires a different mindset than writing. You can’t start the process thinking that everything is going to survive your sharpened samurai swords. The weeds choking your real story must face their day of reckoning. A change is coming, and you’re armed with the tools necessary to execute it. 

“No One Ever Tells You” by Seth MacFarlane

Lyrics for writers: “Someone tells you later all is fair in love and war/But no one ever tells you before.”

Okay, so everyone tells you editing is going to be a bitch. But you never truly believe it until you’re in the trenches.

However, there’s something about Seth MacFarlane’s voice that makes you enjoy feeling miserable. He happily croons the line: “No one ever tells you what's like to love and lose/How it feels to waken and have breakfast with the blues.” If Brian the Dog’s vocals can accomplish that, your words can do the same. Don a fedora, turn the volume up on this tune, and viciously wield your red pen to coax the right notes out of your prose.   

“Agape” by Bear's Den

Lyric for writers: “For I'm so scared of losing you/and I don't know what I can do about it.”

Killing those little darlings is traumatic. Humming the chorus to Bear’s Den’s earnest breakup song won’t make the process any easier, but at least you’ll have something syrupy to fall back on after you smack the delete key. Remember, you’re ending the relationship with those words and phrases for a reason. It’ll hurt at first, but you’ll be a stronger, mentally balanced writer following the drinking and weeping. Plus, unlike an ex-lover, you can keep the trimmings around! Author Peter Sherwood is fond of saying, “Don’t throw anything away!” and he’s absolutely correct. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used snippets of previously cut material to fill in gaps or awkward transitions. With that knowledge, the initial break up shouldn’t completely shatter your spirit.

“Devil in Me” by Anderson East

Lyrics for writers: Lord, forgive me for what I'm thinking/Cause it's Saturday night and I'm high and I've been drinking

Editing your prose can generate some pretty dark thoughts. Why did I write this? What was my motivation? Can my body handle any more booze or caffeine?

There’s a devil at play in your work and you need to excise him. Yeah, you’re overtired and possibly over-served, but that shouldn’t stop you from condemning the cloven hooved menace hiding in your literary garden back to his fiery underworld.

“S.O.B.” by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Lyrics for writers: “Son of a bitch, give me a drink”

Editing can be a grim experience. Don’t wallow in the slow songs for an extended period. At the end of a long editing binge, crank up “S.O.B. and get sufficiently lubricated. After a few cocktails, tell your awkward sentences and flaccid dialogue, “I'm going to cover myself with the ashes of you.”

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