How To Recycle Bottom-Drawer Stories

Thanksgiving was pretty amazing. It’s difficult to gather three generations in one house; but we managed it. The bourbon flowed freely, there was much wrestling, discussion of childhoods and future burials, and the revising of wills.

I had been editing a story on the flight there, and it was on my mind while I cleared out half of my belongings that my parents saved for me. Among these was a massive collection of trophies, medals and plaques. Of the three five-foot karate state championship trophies I tossed, I only regret the loss of one. It marked one moment of three big achievements for me: my first black belt competition, my first adult competition, and my first 1st place out of eleven, rather than four others. For weapons forms, no less… my true love.

Those items were a record of my achievements in music, in martial arts, and even (I had forgotten about this) science.

I once knew a brilliant sci-fi author who told me that if he doesn’t like his work, or fails to sell it, he deletes it.

Entire manuscripts — gone!

I couldn’t do that. I’m sure you can relate. Lots of writers have stories gathering dust in the depths of their desks and hard-drives. These are a mix of things we never finished, or failed to sell, or were too precious and fragile for anyone else’s eyes. I can give up trophies. The achievement matters more than the marble; but a story…?

Those physical and digital archives remind me of the stuff that piles up in warehouses and garages. You could chuck it to make room, certainly, but by eschewing materialism there’s also a great loss of one’s own history and context. The important thing is how we relate to that history and context, and how it informs who we become.

I had this story on my mind, remember. The reason it wasn’t working was because it was a literary meditation. Genre fiction hinges on stakes, conflict, and dynamic adventures. When I showed the draft to some other writers I know, I got lots of great thoughts on how to revise. Thing is, they’d all change the direction and crux of the story. It would lose its history and context. In essence, I’d be throwing it away. Or deleting it.

The other option is to pursue all options.

If you don’t want to throw anything away, then use the pieces at hand to build something new.

Think about an old story you have that isn’t working. Then see if you can find the notes and suggestions you got from others. Write all of those stories. Change the names. Change the climate. Before you throw something away, give it a good hard look. Don’t waste a chance to recycle.

 

“Don’t loaf and invite inspiration; light out after it with a club, and if you don’t get it you will nonetheless get something that looks remarkably like it.”
— Jack London

 

“Look on every exit being an entrance somewhere else.”
— Tom Stoppard

 

trophy

The orange one.

 

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One thought on “How To Recycle Bottom-Drawer Stories

  1. marfisk

    Sounds like a great Thanksgiving :).

    As to those older stories, I keep them around because most of them still resonate and wait only for me to rewrite them at my current skill. However, the one story I held off on because I wanted the skill first will probably never be finished because I’ve changed from the person who stood on the precipice the story depends on. I could have edited and improved a finished draft, but I can’t recreate that person (amusing since I do that with all sorts of characters, but this is a question I’ve answered for myself so the questioning phase is over).

    I do have some stories I’ve archived because they’re not where I want to be known so the effort to get them out there isn’t worth it. But I don’t throw them away. Things might change and I like them still :).

    Reply

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