If you look down the path any writer has walked, you’re likely to see piles and piles of detritus littering his footsteps. Busted plots like broken wagon wheels tossed by the wayside. Failed or half-formed characters curled up like dead beetles, hollow and husk-like, waiting for the broom. Exercises and sketches and scattered bits of dialogue and unturned plot twists like so much broken glass and twisted slag. People think of writers as creators, but they destroy and abandon twice as much again as they ever shape to completion.
But it’s a poor writer indeed who walks that path, strews the debris of all the ideas that didn’t make the cut in his wake like so many dead fish after an oil spill, and doesn’t double back now and then to pick through the scraps and see if a scarecrow can’t be fashioned out of the trash.
Because, sure, we toss those ideas out the window, discarded cheeseburger wrappers fluttering on the wind, because they didn’t work, because they don’t fit, because something about them makes them not belong. But just because an idea didn’t work with this project, doesn’t mean it can’t work for any project. We’re like sharks. If we stop moving, we die, and when one idea has run its course, the next one bubbles to the surface like the breath of some great beast of the deep. A writer has to be a hoarder, ready to cover old ground and see if some of those old puzzle pieces fit with the new project better than they fit with the old.
If it’s a writer’s nightmare to end up in a publisher’s slush-pile, wasting away for eternity in the purgatory of unread manuscripts, then it’s an idea’s nightmare to end up in the writer’s slush-pile, atrophying and turning to dust while waiting its turn to find just the right story to fit into.
But you’ve got to keep that slush pile.
Whether it’s old notebooks covered with chicken scratch and legions of notes hastily scribbled in the margins, or an overflowing cache of text documents in a dusty folder in the depths of your hard drive, or reams of parchment in the forgotten tongues of Eldritch terrors, those ideas have to be allowed to hang around. There’s no room for minimalism in the mind of the writer. There’s no sense in cleaning out the garage. A writer is only as good as his storehouse of ideas, only as good as the engine of his creativity.
So as you write, be ruthless. Be brutal. Cut the dead weight with savage abandon and cast by the wayside that which doesn’t make the story sing. But keep a roadmap, so you can find your way back to the gems that you leave behind.
This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.