Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Tossing the Old
I like to toss what I don't need. None of this "one day I might need that." Maybe the occasional scene in a novel I'm working on, but otherwise, out she goes. When I tell people this habit in my critique groups, they tend to pause, maybe suck in a breath, and say, "aren't you afraid you'll need it one day?" It's as if the time we spent writing that unsellable material was not wasted as long as we hoard the sentences in a folder somewhere.
Old material can be baggage. If you don't know this by now, you haven't written long . . . you write better the more you write. So why reach back to your kindergarten days to tap stories to use once you're at a college level? You've grown past that stage, so why dilute your fresh, more mature material with your childish phrases you stumbled through on your way up?
Throwing away the old frees you, actually forces you to have to create anew. That's where the magic comes from . . . that raw openness that comes from a blank screen. Like people who live in the past and fear the future, a writer who constantly tries to fall back on old work drags down his potential for success.
For instance, why keep five versions of your novel once it's published? Why keep feature articles from five years ago when they've been rejected ten times? Unless you want to remember how bad you were when you started, or have a sentimental attachment to a piece, why keep all your trials and prompts and practice pieces?
You are a writer, which means you can always come up with something new. Spinning words comes naturally. Don't be afraid to release old ways and out-dated work. Instead, look forward to deleting pieces that didn't come through for you. The trial and error stuff that makes you cringe when you read it again has no place in your files.
Stay edgy, sassy and sharp, always open-minded to original ideas. Old knives cut dull, if they cut at all. A keen new blade slices clean, making the job easier and the results prettier to behold.