Yesterday at 10:14 am I pronounced my novel DOA. The story had flawed, interesting characters, some humor, and a little bounce. I had spent a year thinking about the novel and six months in the writing. Starting out, I had wanted to explore themes of justice, mercy, and forgiveness. The work in progress was meandering along other byways.
The issue of what to keep and what to leave behind is key for any writer. The Writer’s Digest Platform Challenge asked us to think about and list our writing goals. Putting my goals on paper clarified my thinking. I’m not a fan of pulling the plug on any undertaking. I have completed the other novels I set out to write.
At a Writing Day conference, Chuck Sambuchino counseled us to steal from ourselves. He told us to keep the writing we abandon to use later. When writing a novel, I keep a separate file called detritus or effluvia for any bits which have been ejected but could be used somewhere else. Sometimes I throw away pages, even a whole manuscript.
In a recent interview on the PBS News Hour, Patti Smith said she experimented in many art forms before identifying as a writer. She learned to write by writing. She calls it “doing her work.” Much of her work she has not shared. It was a good reminder that writing is a practice.
In 1914 Frank Lloyd Wright designed the Midway Garden with sculptor Alfonso Iannelli. According to “Midway Gardens’ Sprites,” (http://www.anguish.org/~greyson/flw/index.shtml), Wright and Ianelli built a beautiful piece of art which they covered with difficult and gorgeous trinkets.” When the project lost funding, some of the sculpture was saved. The rest of the former Gardens were reduced to rubble and put into Lake Michigan as a break wall. One historian summarized the history, “The Midway Gardens project began in exuberance and ended ingloriously some 16 years later.”
The novel I had begun in exuberance was becoming a class clown, content to sit in the back of the room and mock everyone around him. Yet in the abandoned rubble there can be seeds of a future project. I remember sharing the end of a novel I had written with my writer’s group. A fellow writer suggested I turn it into a blog post. The idea seemed outrageous at the time, but that kernel of advice popped into my mind when contemplating whether to continue my present project. When I realized the project did not represent my interest in the theme I wanted to explore, I saw the wisdom of consigning it to rubble. I had to send the clown home and wait for the real story to present itself. In the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggested a period of no writing and no reading while the creative well refills itself.
The period of listening extended most of the year. At another writer’s group session, a comment by a fellow writer showed me the way into the story I wanted to write.
Every writer has to make their own decision of what to save and what to throw out. We have to know when we are taking an exploratory walk in the woods, and when we are lost. I know a writer who saves her work in plastic sleeves and another who burns what no longer serves. The goal in the end will be to create beautiful rubble, not a wall we can’t see over.