Don’t throw away your stories!
That’s one of the first things I tell my students in the creative writing classes I teach: never throw away your writing. It is a part of you, a living, breathing part of you. Even if you hate it. Even if you hit writer’s block and you can’t work on it anymore. Even if someone told you it wasn’t very good. Even if you’re the only one who will ever read it.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reading an awesome thought-provoking post by one of my favorite blogging pals, Mayumi. She talked about this very conundrum.
Do you think it’s foolish of me to keep things like my stories, when I’m the only one who cherishes them? I mean, nobody’s going to care about them when I’m dead.”
A long time ago, I tossed my stories. Stories I had written as a young kid, when my soul was exploring the storytelling terrain. They weren’t good at all, quite self-indulgent, schmaltzy, uber-similar to favorite books I was reading.
I tossed them because I thought they reflected my ability as a writer, and I was embarrassed by the shoddy workmanship. The truth is, they reflected my willingness and courage to learn how to write.
I wish someone had told me you have to work through the kinks and tangles of your creativity in order to make it shine. I wish someone had told me that often it takes years to go from ugly to bad to good. I wish someone had told me that being good too early in the game actually hamstrings you by halftime.
I lacked a mentor, so I missed out on valuable writing advice like the one I’m forcing upon you all now: don’t toss your writing.
Any work you put in toward your writing counts as practice, skill-building, and learning. All of your work is eligible for the portfolio dating game, where you get to pick your most promising pieces and shine ’em up. You just never know if that writing prompt you fooled around with in junior high is going to blossom from special attention ten years later.
Story ideas I dabbled with in high school still bounce around my head upon occasion–stories that have the potential of being better if I take a risk and go back to them some day. But I threw away most of my stuff, and I regret it now. I’m curious what kind of a thinker and creator and storyteller I was all those years ago. Was I really that bad? And if I was, could I do it better this time around?
You know what? I bet I could have … if I’d kept them.
Don’t do what I did. Instead:
1. Find a nice big file folder (if you work with paper) and store your work. Buy more file folders as necessary. Keep all of them in a weatherproof container and store that puppy someplace safe. If it’s weatherproof, then it’s okay to keep it in the basement.
2. Writers who use computers should store any work that needs a time-out in a separate file that is on a couple of back-up systems, whether you use a thumb drive or the cloud. Don’t only save them on the hard drive of your computer.
Saving it does not mean you have to work on it ever again. You are not tied to this work. But it is part of your growth, and it’s helpful to use it as a tool to prove to yourself that you are improving as a writer. This in turn will encourage you to keep with your quest during the low points.
Throwing your stories away means you stop giving yourself a chance. Throwing them away is the same as denying your gift of storytelling.
Your ultimate quest could be publication, or it could be writing a family memoir for your grandchildren. Whatever calls you to write, in the end, it’s about feeling good about what you love to do.
This Wednesday on my Twitter chat I want to know what you do with your stories (or your writing in general) when you’re not feeling it. (Warning: You better not be throwing your work away!) I’d love to see you there!
My Twitter handle is @4amWriter
Wednesdays 8-9 pm #museflychat
Don’t forget–Dare to Write Summer Challenge is still on! You have until August 26th to send me something you wrote. It can be fiction, non-fiction, a chapter, a page, or a short story! Send it to me via Word document attachment to k [dot] johnston [at] comcast [dot] net for a chance to win a fun prize–either a story coaching session or a copy of one of my two ebooks!
Have a writerly day!