Hey! On Monday we just talked about de-cluttering and getting rid of stuff that you really don’t actually need. And guess what? That applies double to you writers out there.
This may be a little different for those of you who write your stories and ideas on computers first. I write all of my work (save blog posts) out on paper with a pen or on my typewriter first. I’m also a big fan of writing ideas and notes on random pieces of paper. You can imagine what that means.
Yep. Pieces of paper everywhere.
But maybe those of you who use your phone and computer still have a lot of paper just…around. Maybe your phone is cluttered up with ideas. Dreams. The start of ten different novels.
And that’s a problem.
I’m going to say something and it’s going to hurt: not all of your ideas are good.
In fact, the majority are probably bad just like me and every other writer. That’s not really a big deal. Well, at least not after a long time and a hard talk with yourself. Not all of your ideas can be winners. Not all of them should be winners.
But that doesn’t mean that we think they’re all winners.
What happens then? When we think that all our scraps of paper are necessary, future stories, little gems to be woven into a bigger tale, what happens?
We hoard our writing.
We don’t delete stories that we don’t like, won’t finish, and that just didn’t make the cut. We don’t throw away papers with a few lines of unfinished poetry on them. We don’t let go of any of our work because it might be important. We might wish that we still had it years down the line.
But we have to be real with ourselves. And the first step to that is to take a hard look at yourself and your work. Before we get into that, into how to get rid of your work, separate the good stuff from the toss pile, let’s take a minute and recognize some stuff.
As much as we would like to think it is, our writing is not a direct reflection of who we are. Yes, our life and our experience plays a big role in it. Yes, the characters we develop and grow are like family. But those early ideas, the realization a story doesn’t work, is a good one to have. At the end of the day, our stories are not about us. If we can’t do justice to the story, then we have to let it go. It’s not ours to tell.
The second, is that just because a story flops doesn’t mean that you as a writer have flopped. Sometimes we don’t have enough tools in our box to let us write a story well enough. Other times, a story is just bad. Bad characters. Flat plot. Boring. Or too long and drawn out. And we have to let it go.
What is your primary purpose as a writer?
For me, today, my primary purpose as a writer is to make someone feel. I want to connect with my story. My words. The images I create. The characters, their struggles. The conflicts. The dialogue. It’s my job to create a connection and that allows the reader to feel something real.
If I am not putting out my best work, that won’t happen.
So, let’s talk about the most important questions you have to ask yourself as you try to slim down your collection of big stories and stuff. Because coming at piles of writing with a cleaver isn’t going to do you any good.
Does this match up with the writer you are?
This was the hardest part for me. I write a lot. A LOT. I’m the kinda writer that just puts out content like crazy so I have to know when it’s bad. I also have emotional attachments to things and I kept every single thing I wrote from sixth grade to now. Every poem. Every short story. Everything. And yes, I have been writing horror poetry since I was 11. That’s 13 years of poetry.
There are some bad ones.
As I developed as a writer and learned about the art of writing, my work vastly changed. As thankful as I am for that, it means that I have a lot of stuff that I realize just isn’t good anymore. More than that, it doesn’t represent who I am.
My style change. My topics changed. The kinds of stories I like to write have changed. Hell, I was religious years ago and my writing reflects that. Now? I don’t feel so comfortable with all those changes.
Some of your older work that you wanted to come back to or intended to change, might just not be a good fit anymore. And you know what? That’s okay. You’re allowed to get rid of work that doesn’t represent you anymore.
Would you read it?
Readers can tell if a writer is writing something just to do it. If you genuinely do not enjoy the story you are writer, guaranteed that the reader will know. What happens then? They don’t read it.
People want to be whisked away by a story. For that to happen, it’s imperative that you enjoy writing the story. That passion for the story is going to transfer into the story itself. The reader will pick up on that and they’ll be nothing other than excited and involved.
The other way to interpret this, is it good? Would you put the book down because it’s poorly written? A book that is poorly written, whether it’s bad style or just bad plot, isn’t one that’s going to keep your readers. Not every story can be perfect, like we said earlier. Sometimes, you have to cut your losses.
To me, those really are the two biggest questions you need to ask yourself when you’re doing through the process of eliminating work you’ve hung onto a little too long. It’s not easy to do but we have to do it to improve ourselves as writers.
The most important of all of this is that we have to throw out work. We cannot just hang on to old work and let it clutter up our life and our brain. We’ve got to do the best thing for ourselves and our professional life.