What do you do with your stories when you’re not feeling it?

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

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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!

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31 thoughts on “What do you do with your stories when you’re not feeling it?

  1. That is great advice. I regret a bunch of the stories from my younger days that I tossed because some of them were downright embarrassing. *sigh* Wish I had them now. To explore. To breathe new life into. Or simply to remember what intrigued me as a younger me, and revisit that early learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful advice! Just yesterday, I was going through some old files and found some bits of writing I had done. It’s always a good idea to go through the old writing that we keep from time to time. And, so often, the writing is better than I thought – that inner critique softens with time, doesn’t it?

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    • I think you’re right, Letizia. The inner critic does soften over time–or becomes wiser? Something positive happens, though. I’d stopped throwing my work away when I was in my late twenties, so I have stuff from then. I re-read those stories a few months ago and I was pleased to feel a stirring, a curiosity, a desire to try writing them again. That’s a good thing!

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  3. Good advice. I agree that ALL our writing is part of us. Don’t toss it. I have many files of so called ‘junk’ that I go back and read over occasionally. Occasionally, a half-started story will spark other ideas; but if nothing else, it helps me see how I’ve grown as a writer…and that is priceless.

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    • I think that’s true, Char. Even a story that won’t go anywhere “as is” has the potential of being reborn as another story or could feed a different story that’s already in the making. Our ideas are valuable. We have to remember that sometimes the execution of our ideas might be a bit wonky but that doesn’t mean we’re not good writers!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Kate, you are so right. Confession? I’m a writing hoarder. I kept it all. Every poem I ever wrote since middle school. All the stories I started and didn’t finish. When I have a contest to write for, I cull through my older ideas and sometimes grab something and rework it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Amazing advice! I just read through a few of your posts and I love your advice,tips and suggestions and also how real you are.I frequently feel like throwing writing away,but my mother saves it all up.I didn’t know this until I found a bunch of my childhood essays a few days ago.She gets it.

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    • Hello! Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m thrilled you are finding my posts helpful and motivating. It’s why I blog–to reach other people in a positive and inspirational way. 🙂

      That’s awesome that your mom is rescuing your writing. I love hearing stuff like that. We all need a cheerleader, or some kind of support system that stops us from beating ourselves up too much. Make sure you tell her to keep up the good work! 😉

      Thanks for swinging by and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I never throw out any of my writing. I have several journals around where I jot down thoughts or write about things to clear my head sometimes. I’ve ended up revising and elaborating with some of my writings which have ended up in some of my books. Many times I revisit something I wrote long ago and question myself, ‘Did I write that?’ Lol. All notes are precious pearls.
    And thanks for the reminder. I will get something over for your eyes in the next week or so. 🙂

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    • That’s great to hear, Debbie. I wish I had not been so impulsive, so quick to judge myself. But I guess my mistake can be used to help someone who is just starting out. I love this: “All notes are precious pearls.” That is sweet, and so true.

      Great! I look forward to reading something from you!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for this reminder, Kate! It breaks my heart when I hear that talented writers I admire just throw their work away! I’m glad you keep things, now.

    Like Kourtney, I’m a writing hoarder. I have folders, files, Gigabytes of storage devoted to old stories, lines of dialogue, half-formed ideas, character sketches, you name it. Some of them go back to my teenage years! In the last decade or so, I’ve concentrated more on creating stories – or, at least, vignettes – rather than just collecting random thoughts on scrap paper. Of course, there have been efforts that fell by the wayside, but many of even those failed attempts have been revitalized in new versions.

    Digital storage being what it is today, there’s little reason for us not to back up our work. Even if we write with pen and paper, it’s easy to take a photo or scan and send that to the cloud! That being said, if anybody out there wants some free OneDrive storage, I’m happy to send out invites! 😀

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    • So pleased to hear we have another Writing Hoarder in da house! 🙂 I loved seeing the picture of your stored writing on Facebook. That’s something to be really proud of!

      I stopped throwing my work away when I was in my late twenties, but that means over fifteen years of work is gone. The ideas of many of my stories are still in my head, so I guess I could rewrite them. I’m sorry though that I trashed a big part of my creativity. Hopefully my mistake will be someone else’s golden nugget of knowledge.

      Is OneDrive the same as Dropbox? I used Dropbox a couple of years ago, then for some reason I couldn’t find my most recent versions of my work on it. Luckily, I’d also been backing up on a thumbdrive, so I just stopped saving to Dropbox and rely on my thumbdrive.

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s great that you still have those ideas running around, though. One of the stranger aspects I’ve found with my writing is that, once I write down an idea, I tend to consider it used, and it takes a lot for it to come into my head again. This does not apply to themes or thematic elements, but usually specific dialogue. It’s hard for me to plagiarize myself, that way, since I have one or two friends who read almost all of my stuff, and I’m afraid they will notice the steal! 😀

        You always have such great advice for writers of all kinds. I hope that others do realize that they shouldn’t throw away their writing!

        [Online storage talk starting in 3, 2, 1…]
        OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) is kind of the Microsoft version of Dropbox; all you need is a microsoft.com account (it can be any email address). Google Drive is also a nice option, if you’re a Google/Gmail person. I personally like Microsoft’s OneDrive service because it has an auto-sync with my Surface tablet. So, while I’m connected to the Internet (or, if I’m working offline, when I connect to the Internet again), any documents I’ve updated will automatically synchronize to online cloud storage. There is also a desktop folder share on Win/Mac OS that functions the same way: all identically-named versions are kept up-to-date. Dropbox and Drive have this option, too, so you don’t have to manually upload all the time. It’s been very handy to work offline on my tablet during my commute, and then have the latest version available on my home laptop when I connect to the Internet.

        Dropbox starts with 2GB; OneDrive starts with 5GB; and Google Drive has the largest starting capacity at 15GB. All of these starting plans are free, with pay options to upgrade.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll check OneDrive out. Seems to make a lot of sense to have our material backed up in multiple places. Funnily enough, I just got an email invite from Dropbox this morning–the Back-Up Gods’ ears must have been itchy! 🙂

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  8. First of all, thank you for this post. I talked about this very thing about a week ago. Like you, I regret throwing away notebooks and stories I wrote years ago. I even had a short story published, but threw away the original. I look back on it now and wonder what in the world I was thinking. I was working on a series of stories, but am thinking about scrapping them because I feel it’s not my best work. I think the problem I have is exactly what you described. I had people like my stories, but didn’t offer useful critiques.

    Nowadays, that has changed. I still have people tell they like my stories, but it’s more detailed. The critiques are also very encouraging. I say that because I know what I need to change. So I hold onto them. I worked on a story for months. When I finished it, I was a bit disappointed because it was shorter than I thought it would be. But like you said, these stories are a part of me. They reflect a part of my life, whether directly or subtly.

    Thank you for this post. I will make more of an effort to keep the stories I have.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing your experience. I think a lot of writers go through this, judging from the comments I’ve received here on the blog, and on other social media outlets. I don’t understand why we’re so hard on ourselves, but maybe it goes with the territory of being a creator.

      It sounds like you’ve found a good, supportive community that helps guide you toward becoming a stronger and better writer. I know that’s key. I didn’t have a mentor during those testy teenaged years, and I believe it is the reason I flailed and ultimately gave up on myself — not to blame others, but I think everyone needs a team if they want to succeed.

      I’m glad that you’re re-thinking your urge to throw away your writing. If it gets to be too much of a struggle, simply store it away, out of sight, and move on. I bet that “out of sight” will help keep it “out of mind” and you won’t be burdened so much by it. When enough time passes, you’ll be able to re-read it without self-sabotaging.

      Good luck!

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  9. I keep pretty much everything I write. Even if you run out of steam when working on a piece, you never know when some of it might prove useful. It’s not uncommon for me to take a paragraph or two from something I never finished and re-purpose it for something else.

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    • Exactly! All of our ideas are meaningful in one way or another. If we can’t make it work for one project, it might work for another project. Often I find when I’m writing fiction, a random character will show up. Initially, I assume s/he belongs there and I write him/her in. If it doesn’t work I realize that character actually belongs in a totally different story, and s/he was just barging in to see when I’d get around to writing about them. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Great advice. I threw a few of my early ramblings away, but have kept everything from about 1988 onwards! They are all in plastic wallets and in a box file. Might never see the light of day and when I’m gone they’ll probably just be used to light a fire, but they’re mine and going nowhere!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Pete! That’s great–you have almost 30 years of writing to inspire you! Or to simply grow from. As long as we respect that time and energy spent on our journeys, then it’s okay that they’re in files or under beds. Still means something very important.

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  11. Pingback: Your Writing is not Your Trash | 4am Writer

  12. I thought I wrote a long comment here yesterday, but it’s disappeared. I love this post and am going to share it with MY creative writing students. Every week I urge them to type up the stories they’ve written in my class; save it; savor it; and then read it a day, a week, a year later. They are then amazed at their ability to write a good story. Thanks for explaining it so well here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hate when WP loses comments! And it’s always the long, well-written ones!! I hope that your creative writing students find something useful in this post. I’m sure they’ve all “been there, done that” in terms of wanting to get rid of writing they consider bad. I’m glad that you tell them to save their stuff to re-read down the road! What a good teacher you are!!

      Liked by 1 person

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