Another blog post? My goodness, I’m on a roll. Not really, I’m mostly procrastinating. I wrote three chapters yesterday and quite frankly, I’m afraid to dig back into it because I know my kids need to go school shopping, and the laundry needs washing, the floors need vacuuming, and if I start writing…none of that will get done.
I want to discuss old writing. You know what I mean, right? The manuscripts (mostly unfinished) that we stuff away into drawers, or jam into files labelled “pile o’crap” on our hard drives—what? I’m the only one who does that?—hoping that we never have to look at them again. That writing is what I want to discuss.
Last month I had five completed manuscripts. Of course only one of those was agent worthy. But I had four that were full, start to finish and in my opinion at the time, two should have been deleted, trashed, and forgotten. Yet, my writer brain wouldn’t allow me to delete them. So they sat, in the Crap Pile, waiting for…I wasn’t sure what.
Then I was messing around, trying to clean up folders and figure out where the hell I’d saved my damn outlines and I came across a few finished manuscripts (turns out I’d saved outlines in the Crap Pile too) that I couldn’t resist reading. There were four. Yeah, I was a writing machine last year. That’s how long these manuscripts sat. The last save date was way back in early 2009 on all of these. So I read them and you know what? They aren’t crap. They’re clunky, passive, and pov ridden headaches, but the plot, the characterization and the basic ‘ideas’ are damn good.
Now before I started actually pausing to outline my stories before starting them, I’d just write as the inspiration took me. Yes, that’s great fun, but it causes an issue. For me it does, anyway. In Crap Pile folder, there are at least three unfinished manuscripts. These have at least 100 pages written in each and I set them aside out of frustration and disgust with my lack of ability to plot. Or I thought I was unable to plot at the time. Turns out, these are also not bad. I need to hammer out an outline for them, but the idea behind them is solid and the characters, well I love all of my characters, so I could be biased.
So before reading my old writing I had four finished manuscripts and two that I felt should have been destroyed. Now I have six, and none of them should be completely obliterated. Well, one. Okay, there’s one. I have two that are polished enough to show to agents and publishers with another very close. I have three more that need a little cutting, rewriting, and not as much as I thought they needed. I have one 2/3 finished and a file full of outlines. I mean full, at least ten that I forgot I’d written and several more that I’m itching to get at.
What am I saying? Don’t be afraid of your old writing. Sometimes stepping away is a good thing. But never think any of your writing is crap. It might be amateur or a little rusty, but it’s never crap. Don’t delete any of it. Keep it. Let it gather some dust and then, when you’re feeling particularly strong or possibly just bored, go through some of it. You might find that with time comes inspiration. That story that seemed stupid and awful last year might just be the spark that gets you moving on an even better idea or, with a little more wisdom, you might realize just what that story needs to become fabulous.
I don’t believe that I’m exceptional or special and only my old writing is worth a second look. I think this is true for most writers. As long as you’re able to look subjectively at it and really rip into it and make changes, you might find that you have something worth sending out hiding in the Crap Pile.