Chucking the ballast

What are you carrying around that prevents you from picking up new things?

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If there’s one tip I should take to heart – not only as related to writing, but other stuff as well – it’s that sometimes in order to move forward you need to chuck things out. Even though you’ve put in a lot of work on them. I mean, I’ll keep snippets of deleted scenes for years, trying again and again to include them in new stories – and it never works, because the tone is off, or I’m not thinking through how the old scenes fit into the new timeline.

I know this, and yet I keep making the same mistake. I’m so loath to throw away things I’ve toiled over for hours and hours, but sometimes… you just have to. Put it down to a learning experience and move on.

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I don’t know why I don’t do this more often. I mean, I love writing, and yet it’s like I avoid writing by reusing old stuff. As if I can’t trust myself to come up with new words.

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Or is it just laziness? I don’t know. But today I came across an amazing writing tip on Tumblr that really spoke to my fetish for logical hierarchies, and I decided to try it out. START FROM SCRATCH for once, instead of trying to squeeze a stagnated WIP into a new structure and ending up with an even bigger mess than before.

So. I brought a pen and notebook into the garden and got to work the old-fashioned way. And after ten minutes or so I had to run inside and continue on my laptop, because my longhand couldn’t keep up with all the brand new ideas that kept popping into my head!

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At the end of the day I had an entire new novel mapped out, and it turns out that I can actually use minor scenes from one of those pesky WIPs in this new story. But the thing is that this time I started with the structure, with a departure and an arrival point that guided everything else, so when I use old material I know exactly where to put it for it to make sense in the dramaturgy instead of just cramming it in any old where.

Now, I won’t lie and say that structure is everything. It’s a tool that takes you some of the way, but not all the way. Sometimes you need to break the rules you’ve set up to move forward. The plot is a map that guides you, but sometimes you need to ignore the map for a while and trust the terrain. The whole process is like a pendulum that swings between structure and anarchy. Use the tool until you get stuck, then chuck the tool and improvise until you get stuck, etc.

That’s how you build a story.

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