One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given in writing is to not to throw anything away.
When you’re writing, you’re bound to start things you don’t finish, have ideas that fizzle out. You’ll no doubt have short stories you wrote and never went back to, or even completed novels (or really close to completed novels) which have been placed on the back-burner for so long now the bottom of the pan is scorched.
Maybe you got distracted by a different idea. Maybe your passion for the project dissipated for some reason. Maybe something happened in your life (“Events, dear boy, events.”) that meant with all the good will in the world, you couldn’t finish it then and it slipped to some dusty corner of your mind.
The Why doesn’t matter.
What matters is that you keep everything. That you don’t lose track of any work you’ve done.
Having finished the first draft of the new book last week, I’m now taking a short break from it. A chance to contemplate it, give myself some distance and gain a clearer point of view about what works and what doesn’t.
But still wanting to be productive, I’ve dug out a story from the old trunk and am working on that, with a view to making it the next thing I publish.
Actually, this story wasn’t one I had to wrestle out dog-eared from somewhere at the bottom of that trunk (you know, the kind of thing buried under yellowed receipts and the water-stained manual for a DVD player I no longer own), but one that’s been sitting pristine on top. It’s a tale of the gothic I wrote five years ago and have tinkered with on and off ever since, always with the thought I was going to finish it, but never quite getting there.
But I know that further down in the trunk there are other stories, even one whole novel which I’m sure I can come back to. I’m confident that the ideas remain strong, that a lot of the themes and characters are already there, they just need to be rewritten.
The thought of that pleases me tremendously.
It means there are days ahead when I don’t have to start from scratch. The tyranny of the pure blank page can be ignored whilst I work on them.
Yes, the rewriting will require hard work, but since I last picked them up, I’ve done a lot of thought on narrative and writing – read a lot more – and I know I can do a better job on them now than I did back then.
Don’t throw out your notepads. Don’t move files into the Recycle folder and forget about them when you change laptops.
You never know when you might have opportunity to make something really good out of it.