Yesterday I took several weeks of notes for my new novel and tossed them. It felt great. Very liberating. Admittedly, I’m the sort of person who enjoys rampaging through the family closets and bagging clothes for Goodwill, along with old toys nobody plays with. “Hey, I needed that broken plastic thing with no wheels that I haven’t played with in three years!” I like nothing better than recycling newspapers and magazines. “But that’s today’s paper!”
It’s already 10 a.m. You should have read it already.
You get the idea–I’m the opposite of a pack rat.
So I have no compunctions about throwing out my own work when I feel it’s not useful. I’ve cut hundreds of pages from early drafts of novels, and tossed short stories I’ve worked on for weeks. Yesterday I looked at my research notes and my charts for my new book and I just didn’t think they were good enough, interesting enough, or necessary enough. Time to go back to the drawing board.
If you cringe at the thought of admitting you’ve wasted that much time–I really recommend trying it. You’ll love it. You’ll feel light and free. Your imagination will breathe a sigh of relief and start looking around eagerly for new material
Ourit, one of my Facebook readers posted an interesting response to my report of negative progress:
“It’s almost unsettling, to hear this from an author. It almost makes the destiny of the book seem shaky. Except it somehow ends up doing the opposite….”
In truth there is something a bit unnerving about jettisoning so much work. That’s why it’s fun. Scary fun. But I never worry about jinxing my next book.
The first thing I’d say is that I am confident my next idea will be better than the last and that there will always be new ideas coming. This confidence comes with age. The first time I tossed this much material I was upset and didn’t know if I could dream up something new. Now after seven books, I take a breath and call this wholescale bonfire of the vanities my “writing process.” This makes me feel a whole lot better.
My second response to Ourit: I guess I don’t really believe in destiny, and my ideas about composition are rather fluid. My model of creativity has more to do with natural selection than with fate. There will be ideas and projects that fall by the wayside as I develop my new novel. I’m used to that. I embrace failure because I learn from it. Sometimes you need to persevere and overcome obstacles. At other times it’s better to push the eject button and start over. As the song goes: You have to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.
But HOW do you know? you ask.
Ahhh. Now you’re getting to the crux of the matter. But you can’t expect me to answer that all at once in one little blog posting before breakfast, can you? I’ve got to recycle “The New York Times” and any stray homework I find on the floor (just kidding).
Seriously, I’ll talk about how you know in my next post. Stay tuned.