Stephen King famously tells the story of how his wife fished the manuscript of his first novel Carrie out of the bin. I guess there will be times for all of us when we feel like doing exactly as he did and tearing up our writing, putting it in the bin or abandoning it. But I’m not for doing this on a regular basis, in fact hardly ever at all. I only ever put paper in the bin when I’m sure I have a copy on my machine or a final, final, edited piece. (Keeping too many versions can get confusing but it’s important to do this especialy if you are making significant changes and might want to go back to the original.)
I think we should keep what we write, and not consign it to the bin, or delete wholesale. Even if we don’t believe today we will tomorrow or the next day, at least then we can see our work with a neutral and fresh eye. Time and distance can give us a whole new perspective on what we’ve written. I’ve recently completed the first draft of a story I first tried to write four years ago. It was a story that I couldn’t make work but I knew had the kernel of a good idea buried inside it. Four years on I’ve re-written it and I think it works.
My story ‘Meat’ shortlisted recently for the Bristol Prize had a similar genesis. I wrote it more than five years ago but re-worked it last year in the light of everything I’d learned about the short story including all the reading of stories I’d done.
In his book ‘Writing Poems,’ Pater Sansom says, ‘If something is on the page it is often there for a reason. To cut something out before discovering its originating cause can be a mistake and is usually a result of impatience.‘ I agree – we should not be impatient with ourselves but organise our folders and files well (and back them up – that reminds me!) and keep it all, who knows when it will surface again, who knows just how much we will learn as our writing progresses.
I’ve got two novels, each over a third of the way through on my computer, neither of which I’m working on, and which I may never work on again but I wouldn’t dream of consigning them to the recycle bin. And if I am working on something, especially in my notebook, I try to just let it flow and I don’t rip out pages as I go along. It’s that outdated image of the frustrated writer at the typewriter ripping out and crumpling up pages that needs to go into the bin, not our words.
If you’d like to hear Stephen King talk about ‘Carrie’ and about teaching creative writing (Interesting – I couldn’t agree more and I had a taste of the so-called best of the courses on offer) then here’s the You Tube link