Concepts about Writing: Letting Go of Practice Books
If you, as a writer, are anything like me, you have a billion half-structured ideas in your writing folders. Plot bunnies, dream journals, half-written books, ideas that went from napkin to hurried GoogleDoc and saved with cryptic titles like “Sci Fi bounty hunter romance” or “Dream 43”.
I have been writing consistently for well over fifteen years now, mostly for fun, and in that time, I have amassed a literal trove of these. Some of which I have worked on, some which languish, forgotten and dusty.
I mine that Ideas folder for new book projects from time to time. It was how I (re)started Out of His League, and Western Heat. It is where I look for inspiration, in the detritus of half-baked “what if” questions and barely understandable point-form.
Not all the ideas are winners, and some I wonder why I keep. I am reminded of my grandfather, who lived through the 1930’s depression. He kept everything in case it was necessary. Milk bags, tin cans, rubber bands, plastic margarine tubs. It was all useful. Grandpa, you would be proud, I never throw any of my ideas away!
The very first manuscript I ever said goodbye to was one of the first I seriously worked on. I wrote over half of the book and then lost interest. It got buried in the ideas file when I transferred all my writing onto Google, and I hesitated picking it up again many times. Every time, it was overwhelming and tiring to write.
A few years ago, I tried one more time. I was a better writer, I had just finished writing For Alice, With Love, I was more engaged in actually writing a full manuscript, and...
I got lost in the weeds once more.
I sat there, looking at my screen and audibly asked myself “Why are you trying to make this work?” - It wasn’t joyful to write, I was dreading sitting down in front of it, and in the end, even though I loved the characters and premise, it just wasn’t right.
So I let go. I didn’t delete it, but gave myself permission not to write it. Growth as a writer is giving yourself the permission to stop when something isn’t working. To understand that not all your shitty first drafts are ever going to be born, and allow yourself to let them go.
Practice, Practice, Practice
I think we all have projects like that, as writers. Books we started and just can’t wrap our heads around. Skeletons in that proverbial WIP closet that wave at us now and again when we slip in to grab our favourite manuscript.
In that light, how many big name writers out there will tell you they have a back catalogue of work that will never see the light of day, written before they ever saw their name on the New York Times list? Books that they think are terrible? I bet there is a lot.
So many of them will likely also tell you this: These books are practice for your craft. Think of it this way... you wouldn’t run a race without training, right? Well, to write a best seller, you likely have to write, and write, and write! Not all of it will be good.
With several other books (and years) under my belt, I have a better perspective on my writing process now. The question then becomes: Could I resurrect the book now? Would it work now?
The answer is still no. I have fully embraced the book as a practice book and set it down. It is a book where I learned a very valuable lesson in my journey as a writer. Not all of my books are going to be good ones, and that is okay. Not all books are going to get finished, and that is okay too. But in that frustrating perceived failure, there is a good thing that can come from the practice— aside from becoming a better writer.
I have used plot concepts from that book in books I have since completed, and characters have wound their way into others. When we create, we never truly let go of the elements of the stories that live in us, do we?
They will find a way out, even if the original intention for them didn’t work.
So keep practicing! ♥
Do you have “practice books” in your folders? Do you have books that you just couldn’t finish writing and stopped writing? What was that like? What did you learn?