Front Page, Musings

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.

Front Page, Musings

Weekly Musing: The Care and Comfort of Your Writer

Writers and many other creative types have a reputation for being a little, well, out there. It’s what makes us able to create our art. But sometimes we get a little too wrapped up in our world. It’s not unusual to put off social interactions, ignore health issues or routine check-ups, fail to clean our house, forget to walk the dogs, or even acknowledge family. Us creative types are probably the worse at self-care. Self-care is the idea that each and every day we take care of our emotional, physical, and mental well-being. It’s something everyone can and should practice.

With creative types, though, self-care is difficult. Our brains are constantly working either subconsciously or consciously. Inspiration can strike at any time and must be captured at that moment or it flies away. We can become so completely absorbed in our project we forget to eat or eat more than normal, drink too much caffeine or alcohol, forget what time it is or even the day, etc. Essentially we forget about life outside of our work.

Since we are so terrible at self-care, it can be up to our family and friends to remind us to get out there and live. So how does a family or friend support the writer? A lot depends on the writer’s personality. We are humans after all and vary.

What are the types of situations a friend or family member should pay extra attention and what are some ways of helping the writer in your life?

Acceptance or Rejection: Obviously when your writer gets a work accepted and published, celebrate with them! You know how much work has gone into the piece so feel free to share in their success. Even if the writer doesn’t realize it, your support in whatever form is what kept them going.

When it comes to rejection, let the writer feel whatever he or she is feeling. Some will cry. Some will rage (a lot of that depends upon how the rejection was worded and from whom). Some will shrug it off. Some will eat their way through their feelings. Whatever their reaction is, be there for them. Give them a hug, a word of encouragement, remind them someone, somewhere will accept their work, and ask them what they need from you at that moment.

Writer’s Block: This one is admittedly a little bit difficult to for family and friends to pick up on. Hopefully your writer will admit they are stuck and discuss their frustrations. More than likely our brain just needs to recharge and doing something else. Even simply resting is more beneficial and productive than staring at the wall or computer screen in agony. If your writer admits to writer’s block, suggest they take a break from the piece and work on something else. Yes, the break may cause a bump in their timeline to finish, but honestly if your writer is struggling their project is already delayed. Or take them outside the house. Suggest a walk or some other activity which physically gets them away from the keyboard.

If your writer doesn’t talk about it, be on the lookout for increased crankiness, seems distracted, seems more quiet, or anything else that is out of the norm. Ask them how their project is going and offer up words of encouragement. Ask what you can do to help them. Don’t be afraid to suggest taking a well-deserved break. Another suggestion is to encourage them to discuss what’s got them tripped up with other writers.

When I get stuck I prefer to take a break and do something else. Once I get over the guilt of stepping away, the rest leaves me more alert when I come back to a piece. I also do a lot of venting to my spouse.

Working Too Much: Over and over writers are told to establish a routine and stick with it. We are told to write every day, ass in chair. We see posts or tweets by our fellow writers about how much they’ve written in a day. It’s easy for us to over work ourselves regardless if we have a deadline or not. Like anyone else who works too much, this leads to a lot of stress. If you aren’t seeing your writer very often or when you do they are acting different, they could be suffering from working too much.

Depending on the writer’s situation, the level of support you provide will vary. If they are facing a deadline, you may have to pick up extra responsibilities. Only do these if you can because you can’t completely sacrifice your own life for someone else.

Even if there isn’t a deadline, see if there are little things you can do to lessen their stress. Bring them a meal. Surprise them with their favorite thing. Drag them away from the computer for a few hours to spend time together. Remind them fatigue isn’t good for creativity or productivity. Encourage them to sleep. Tell them social interaction once in a while will not torpedo their project. Finally, talk about their schedule.

Personally I discovered when I wrote every day it made me incredibly tired physically and mentally. I also was more irritable and even resentful. When I switched to working five days a week, I started feeling much calmer. I come back to whatever story I’m working on more excited and energetic. Plus it allows me to have a life.

 

What it all boils down to is if you have a writer friend or family member let them know you are there for them. Remind them it is okay to talk to you even if you don’t understand some of their frustrations. Be patient, lend an ear, and remind your writer they are human.