Weekly Musing: Don’t Throw It Away

“Kill your darlings” is a phrase frequently heard by writers. It can reference anything from ditching a character you love but who perhaps doesn’t serve much of a purpose to a snippet of dialogue or an awesome phrase which doesn’t quite fit. But does killing off a darling mean they are dead and gone forever? Not necessarily. Perhaps whatever darling you killed off can be repurposed or even inspire a new story. In other words, don’t completely delete anything you’ve written from your life be it a short story or novel you’ve abandoned or never finished.

At a writer’s conference I went to last year, an author in a session I attended admitted she never throws anything out she’s cut. Instead, she stores deleted scenes, deleted chapters, cut dialogue, characters “killed” off, and anything else into a file. She reasoned you never know when you could use it in another story or even create a new story from it.

Yet another example of never fully giving up on a story, regardless of the state it is in, comes from a blog post Anne R. Allen. While she primarily focuses the post toward revising a previously published a book and authors looking to punch it up for today’s publishing industry, there are numerous suggestions writers at any stage can use. For example, digging up a completed work and rereading it. With fresh eyes you will see ways to streamline a scene, bring out a character more, write better dialogue, or tighten up the plot. Sometimes an older piece needs something as simple as changing a character’s name, a title change, or a stronger first sentence can breathe new life. While most of the post are revision suggestions, the main point I take away from it is to never give up on a story.

Another way to look at it is what author Jess Walter did with his book Beautiful Ruins. In this interview he discusses how he started the book in the mid ’90s but didn’t fully complete it until a few years ago. Over nearly two decades he kept coming back to the story able to add more to it as his skills developed as a writer. Life experiences also impacted his approach and ability to get the manuscript just right. Again, here is someone who could have left the story languishing on a hard drive. But he didn’t.

I think what these authors demonstrate is not never giving up on a story is that there really is no such thing as writer’s block. Maybe a plot point from different story could work in your current manuscript if you are at an impasse. Or a setting from an unfinished piece would work better in another piece. Personally, when I cut a scene or dialogue I really like, I keep it in a separate file with the hope of being able to work it in somewhere else in the story.

Even though there are stories I’ve tucked away in a file called “Stories I won’t be revising” doesn’t mean this will always be the case. There are unfinished stories and novels I would very much like to finish. A few I’ve even taken a crack at yet even after I’ve completed them, something I can’t put my finger on still doesn’t feel right. My hope is in the future I’ll be in a place to fix them. Again, I’ve never thrown out anything I’ve written.

These are things all writers can keep in mind. We all have short stories, poems, or novels we’ve stored in the metaphorical or literal bottom drawer. Those works we believe are garbage and should never see the light of day. Yet we’ve kept them around. Why? Some part of us feels it has potential. With the new year around the corner, maybe a goal can be to dust off an older piece, see what you can do with it. Whatever you do, though, never permanently delete a story, a scene, dialogue, a character. You never know when it could turn out to be your best work.

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