The Discard Pile. Or, Learning by Doing

Share

In 2001 I wrote what I thought was going to be my break out book, a wry coming of age novel with what I thought was a sharp, witty voice and a rich core story. After years of struggling to attract agents my first five queries led to three requests for the full manuscript, followed by two offers of representation. I accepted one and am still with her.

But she couldn’t sell the book. We had lots of near misses and flashes of genuine interest, even enthusiasm, but in the end, no one wanted to buy it. At the time I put this down to the book’s generic oddness and the idea that it was never going to be a mainstream hit. It didn’t really occur to me that the book just wasn’t very good.

But that, it turns out, was the case.

This week, taking a break between a couple of other projects, I decided to go back to that book from 2001 with a view to tweaking it into something viable. I had a few specific ideas of things I thought needed changing, some strategies for freshening it up, but I didn’t really remember the novel that well, so I set out to reread it on Tuesday.

I was astonished to discover that not to put too fine a point on it, the book sucks. The story is next to nonexistent; it’s self-indulgent, wordy and meandering. There are some good moments here and there, but for the most part it’s just not very good at all.

Frankly, this was a pretty depressing discovery, and it shut down what I had thought would be a fairly easy project.

But there was an upside. The experience of rereading it has made a few things clear to me, and I wanted to share those thoughts today.

First, I see now why the book got me an agent but not a sale. Agents are looking for writers with potential, while editors are looking for finished product. The manuscript shows some flashes of something that may one day be competence, but it clearly wasn’t ready to be a real book.

Second, I am reminded how hard it is for me to assess the value of my own work when I first produce it. It’s taken more than ten years for me to see this book as someone else would. When I first finish a book, I’m too close to it, too invested. I need other people whose judgment I trust to point out what I won’t be able to see for a decade.

Third, and this is a big one, I realize how much better I am as a writer now than I was then. I simply wouldn’t have written that book now, wouldn’t have framed its sentences as I did. I don’t say that as a boast, and the fact that my writing has changed suggests that it’s about experience, not talent.

I explain the improvement in two ways. On the one hand I have emerged from my writer’s cave. Back then I wrote alone and talked to no one about my work. In the last eight years or so I have engaged with the writing community through conventions, friendships with other writers (published and unpublished) and blogs like MW. I’ve become more aware of my craft in the process and have internalized things I clearly just didn’t know in 2001, though I had been writing long fiction for over a decade by then.

The largest factor in my improvement, however, is that I’ve just produced so much writing since then, 14 books and counting. The point is an obvious one, and one we make a lot here: you learn by doing, by writing, by editing, by finishing. We improve in incremental ways we aren’t even aware of—hence our surprise and disappointment when we return to old material and find that it doesn’t measure up.

I’m still bent on revising the book, because I do think there are good things buried in there, but it’s going to take a lot more work than I had thought it would, and that might push it onto the back burner for a while. Maybe forever.

Because the last thing I’ve learned as I keep rereading this book is that sometimes something that you’ve worked hard on for a long time just can’t be saved. This is a really hard lesson but an important one. I might be able to knock this thing into shape but I’m increasingly convinced that doing so would take more work than would starting over. Worse, I know that the revision wouldn’t be as good as would a new project, because the old book will persist with all its bad habits, its structures that don’t quite work, its shapes and arcs and characters that don’t really belong in the new book but which are just so hard to throw away because I WORKED SO DAMNED HARD ON THEM…

When you’ve slaved over something, poured yourself into it, it’s hard to tell yourself to stop. To let it go. It feels like such a waste. But I could spend the rest of my life trying to save this book, while knowing in my heart that it just isn’t worth it.

But it’s not a waste. The book may not be any good, but it was a process I learned from, a process which has continued up to the moment I write these words.

Sometimes you have to quit while you’re behind.

Sometimes you just have to shed old work like dead skin, and move on to something new.

What about you? Horror stories of looking back on old material or specific things you think you have learned over the years? Festering projects you think you should walk away from? Chime in, then get back to work. Only by actually writing do we improve.

Share

28 comments to The Discard Pile. Or, Learning by Doing

  • Funny you should bring it up, AJ … *sigh* I have one. But it may be a slightly different case. Instead of just revising, I rewrote it completely. Repeatedly. Is that different from what you mean?

    It’s the novel I started writing when I was twelve. And rewrote about eight separate times until about age 25, when I finally realized that I needed to give it a rest. It’s had a five-year breather so far, but I’ve got other projects and when I finally come back to it, I want it to *work*. It matters too much to me for me to give up on it completely. I really do believe I can come back to it and tell it right when I eventually do. Because all of the times I rewrote it, I started almost from the ground up. I changed vital details, plot structure, secondary characters. Even the motivations and personalities of the main characters. It’s true, each time I wrote it I learned something new about the craft. I think I’ve learned way more since I put it away. But it means enough to me that I do want to go back and give it another chance. I think of it as my first heartsong, and dammit, it wants to be sung. :)

  • Unicorn

    Thank you for the timely, encouraging post, A. J. I’ve just put down a novel I’d been working on for two years, for many reasons, not least of them being that it simply didn’t work. It hurts and yes, I’d like to come back after a few years and see if I can lick it into shape, but I think it’s for the best.
    And now I have a new first draft to write, so I think I’ll follow your advice and get the BIC.
    Unicorn

  • Man, oh, man, I could have written this post! (In fact, I sort of wish I had! :-) )

    I’ve got five novels in the trunk. Three (one mystery and two romances) are flawed on a word-by-word basis and too broken to rework. BUT – I have a quest fantasy novel, the first I shopped to agents. It’s flawed, but it’s fixable *if* its old soul doesn’t shine through too strongly. And the fifth trunked novel has a *brilliant* idea and setting (if I do say so myself.) I’ve tried to fix its plot twice, and each effort only reveals how broken the plot is (and the characters aren’t so hot, either.) But I think I have a new way to bring it to new life… (It’s up next, when I get a chance to breathe…) Thanks for the great post!

  • Every once in a while I go look at the first novel I ever finished. It has a good plot, funny dialogue, interesting characters, and the writing is so crappy I can hardly bear it. When I first started working with my crit group I didn’t have anything new, so I pulled this out. I tried and I tried to make it better, but it never got better. :(

    Maybe some day I’ll be good enough to go back to it and know what needs to be fixed (or rewritten from scratch), but right now it is back in the trunk and unlikely to emerge any time soon. (Well, unless I’m desperate for something to read at crit group.)

  • Laura,
    you’re not going to want to hear this, so you may want to stop reading now.

    Still with me? Ok. I’d walk away. In fact, I’d run. Do something new. These first stories feel important to us because, as you say, they are first efforts, but if they don’t work first time and can’t be made to work with a second or third pass later, they usually just won’t work. Ever. I had a first novel I wrote when I was 19. I fiddled with it for years and eventually completely rewrote the thing so drastically that even the genre shifted. It never worked and never will because I couldn’t give up completely on things that just–to other people–weren’t that good but which had, for me, become part of my DNA. These endless rewrites are almost always like this and they are usually wasted labor. Yours may be the exception, of course, but I would try not to think about it. Focus on the new.

    Also, see below :)

    Unicorn,
    good luck with the new project. As far as the old one is concerned (and I’d offer this to Laura as well), I think you have to be ruthless with your time. We don’t have enough leisure to write all the books we want to in one lifetime, so you should work on the idea that seems best, the most likely to succeed (according to whatever your criteria are). The fact that you have already poured a lot of time into a project is not a good enough reason to keep pouring more in. Scrutinize your projects coolly and put your work where you will be most rewarded.

    MIndy,
    I’m in the same boat. I have 4.5 novels sitting around which I keep wanting to return to, only to find when I do, that they aren’t even close to being ready. As I said above, I’ve become really wary of the impulse to try to fix them, because it feels like the unholy marriage of laziness and nostalgia, and the resultant edit almost certainly won’t cut it. I may pillage them for ideas, phrases, a character or two, but for the most part I think it healthiest to consider them dead. Again, just my 2 cents…

  • Cara,
    if you are right that the core story and its characters are good, you might take the tack that Peter Jackson’s team did when sitting down to write the first draft of the Lord of the Rings screen play. instead of working through the novel page by page, they all just wrote out the story as they remembered it from years before. The result was all the dramatic bits without the digression (Tom Bomba-who? The song of what?). That MIGHT may be a way to stop yourself being pulled into the old phrasing etc. though (see my other comments above [I feel I’ll be writing that a lot today]) you need a really good reason to return to work which didn’t come together when there are new, shiny ideas out there waiting for you to focus on them…

  • Julia

    AJ, thanks for saying the difficult things right out. “The unholy marriage of laziness and nostalga” strikes me as an excellent, if bracing, characterization of some of my rescue missions vis-a-vis old novels.

    I have an old, much beloved novel-length piece, never finished, on which I wrote for years in junior high and high school. The first actually completed novel, which I rewrote twice from the ground up, actually garnered a look and personal rejection from an agent. It has what I consider to be an irrepairable plot problem, one of those things that would require such a substantial cascade of fixes that virtually everything would have to change. For a while, I thought about writing two other books around this flawed book, with the thought that this would somehow salvage the problem at the center, but with the exception of a bit of noodling here and there, I have managed to resist this temptation. I still think about these characters. I still think there are a couple of exquisite moments, even a couple of excellent scenes. But as I work more and more on other projects, I no longer feel the same compulsion to fix this piece. I learned a ton writing it. I learned even more revising it. Now, I’m learning best by doing something new.

    Yet the hardest thing to face is the growing suspicion that the new novel, whose revisions I finished about a year ago and which is so much better than the first book, may also not find a home with an agent or publisher. It’s been making the rounds, and thus far, silence abounds. Of course, there are external factors that may play a role here. Maybe it’s the gay love story that makes it less appealing. Maybe the market’s down on heroic fantasies these days. Maybe I should revise (again, endlessly) my query. But maybe it’s just not a good enough book to find commercial publication.

    It’s taken some time to let go of my love and hopes for this project sufficiently that I want to write something new. In the last few weeks, though, I’ve been working seriously and playfully on a new novel. The more I invest in this new world, these new characters, the more I seem able to tuck both my hopes and worries away — and focus on the craft.

    Apolgies for the long reply, which I hope is not too personal.

  • You tear out my heartstrings, AJ. I rewrote my first novel so many times that it became something new and totally different. I tore it apart and took away events and characters and added events and characters, changed setting descriptions, deleted and broke up infodumps, all because, as you say, “…the fact that my writing has changed suggests that it’s about experience, not talent.” Yeah. All because I was getting better as a writer and wanted to prove to myself that my first baby was as wonderful as I knew it could be.

    I wasted untold hours on it. And now it’s published with a small press and doing very little — because it was not and never would be my best work. Am I sorry that it is in print? No. But I wasted time on it. A lot of time. Time I could have been crafting something new from the page up. Our books are not our babies, they are commercial products. I *know* that. But I treated this book as my baby. Hence the torn heartstrings for lost creative time that I will never ever get back.

  • I had the mixed fortune of publishing my first complete novel. Children of Amarid is the first book I wrote (aside from my dissertation, and please, PLEASE tell me that doesn’t count . . .) and so I feel fortunate to have gotten it published at all, but I am also acutely aware that my first effort is out there for the world to see, in all its flawed mediocrity. Were I to write that book today, it would be so very different, and, I would like to think, far, far better.

  • Julia,
    not too personal, no. That’s what makes these conversations work. Your attitude sounds both understandable and healthy. Re. the recently completed book, I’d suggest trying to move it into the business part of your brain that handles queries and submissions and does so dispassionately. Put your emotion into your new writing project. I know that’s easier said than done, but if there’s one thing that kills more time than endless rewriting of doomed books, it’s sitting by the phone waiting for your latest submission to make the rounds and doing nothing but obsess over it. That project is going off into the world where it will either get bought or it won’t. It’s your new work that needs your attention (which will also take your mind off the other!).

    Faith,
    so well said. Thank you. And a great point that levering a book we are close to into the marketplace might not actually be a good thing. Work that isn’t up to our usual (or targeted) standard can actually hurt our reputation as well as simply underperforming. I didn’t mean to tear your heartstrings though. In fact the tougher point of this post (about moving on) was not really clear to me when I started to write it. I think it’s right, but it’s something I realized as I mulled what I was really trying to say.

  • Sorry, David. Our posts must have crossed. That’s interesting. I’m usually intensely jealous of people who get their first book published, but as Faith suggests, it’s not always the uncomplicated glory we assume it to be. The first thing you publish is especially loaded. I recall the bafflement I felt when people said “so you’re a thriller writer” after my first came out. I always thought, “no, I’m a writer who happens to have written a thriller” but it was years before I felt I could do more than publish thrillers. The market wouldn’t let me. Slightly off topic, but you know what I mean :)

  • I discovered about 5 or 6 years ago that everything I wrote in High School was just ghastly. Like deeply and terribly bad. More recently, like 3 or 4 years ago, I learned that everything I wrote in College and in the first couple years after was also pretty ghastly, though I like to think there was a lot of promise in it all.

    Who knows what I’ll think of what I’m writing now come 5 to 10 years on.

    Through all of that time, I’ve had this one darling that I work on periodically. The novel I started writing when I was 8 or 9 years old. I’ve been at it for over two decades. (The most recent draft of which was that ghastly stuff I did in those first few years after college.) It’s been trunked for several years now (since I recognized how bad it was), and I committed myself to cutting my teeth on something else for a while. I’m now almost knee-deep in the first full Novel-length WIP (of soemthing else) since I gave up on that last effort.

    The thing is, I know I’ll return to that one day: as you say, I’ve invested a lot of myself in it. But I figure I have to learn what I’m doing if I’m ever going to do it well. I don’t expect, however, that I’ll really take back up with the old draft. More likely, I’ll be starting from scratch and writing something that’s basically new but which is, at least in my mind, also a new (and very highly altered) draft. So there will be personal contiguity even if an outside observer would see (hopefully) that the two are radically different.

    Anyway, it is to me how Laura described her work of similar pedigree: “My first heartsong”.

    And it may come as no surprise, but I kind of disagree with your assessment (in your reply to Laura) on whether something like this ought to be abandoned. Each successive draft of my own novel-I’ve-been-writing-since-forever was better by miles than the previous draft (it’s been through at least four drafts since the first childish efforts of 9-year-old-me, though time and changing document format standards have lost most of those drafts; I have the original still because that’s the only one that was all hand-written and all physical-copy). Each time I rewrote it, it got closer to my idealized vision of what it should be (even as that idealized vision has grown and matured with me). And this is, as I understand it from reading Mr. Rothfuss’s blog, pretty much the story of how Name of the Wind came to be. A similar story lies behind Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings. So it can be done. Not that I count myself in the same class as Rothfuss or Sanderson at this point, but if I keep working and developing my skill, at some point I truly believe I’ll be able to tackle the old story and characters and, freshly infused with a lot of new ideas, refashion it into something I can be proud of.

  • Such a great post–knowing when/how to let go of stuff is hard. Of course, I’m super lucky in that regard: I didn’t write when I was a kid. I wrote a few things in hs, and some achingly bad poetry in hs and college and then nothing. Not until I turned to my now-co-author and said “hey, I bet we could write better than some of this stuff. Want to write a book?” So, of course I skipped all the bad writing of youth and jumped straight to well seasoned brilliance. *rolls eyes* The first novel we wrote was … bad. Potential? Sure. But bad. But an editor read it (why?, I don’t know) and said “go read this book.” So we did. And we got better.

    Now, the book was just read by a bunch of MW betas (THANK YOU!) and they liked it. The coolest part was that they ALL like and disliked the same things. That unification of response was priceless. If we’d gotten 10 readers with 10 different ideas, either the book would have been so good that they were nitpicking (not likely) or so BAD that there was a ton wrong (scary). Now we know what to do with it, and we’ve already got agent interest (long story how we mangage to do THAT backwards), so maybe the redo of the book we started *mumble mumble* years ago will see the proverbial light of day!

    But I will say what helped more than any book we read or advice we got was that in the midst of working on it we each wrote our own novels, both of which have gotten some good response, and shifting and writing something totally new (same genre, UF, but very different) helped so much. The other thing we did was rewrite, not edit. We just redid a plot outline and starting writing from scratch. What we found (or I found, maybe Sarah agrees) was that with the old material we fell back into old (bad) writing patterns or habist. Weird. Or maybe not.

    So if nothing else, moving on to new projects helped us with the old ones, too.

    And David> god I hope that the dissertation counts for something in writing. If it doesn’t I might shoot myself for all the time spent on that! (At least I got conference papers and an article out of it, though!!)

  • My first “serious” attempt at writing resulted in a really bad Doc Savage clone. It came to sixty typed pages, which in the innocence and ignorance of a twelve-year-old I thought was plenty long enough to be a novel. It had flat, derivative characters and no story at all–just event followed by event. The one thing it did have was competent writing. Phrasing and description and atmosphere all gelled nicely to make something that at least you did not want to throw across the room after the first page. It’s probably a good thing I did not know just how bad it was as a work of fiction; if I had, I likely would have given up then and there and never touched a typewriter key again.

  • AJ, I *did* walk away from it. (There was a bit of running. And diving headlong into something new. Publishers’ rejections will do that, I guess.) I haven’t touched it in years and don’t have plans to touch it any time soon. I’m glad I left it, because I’ve learned so much more by having done so. But I would like to go back to it one day. When I do, I will start over completely. It will be a new book. No salvaged words. I believe it can be done, and I’m going to keep believing, but I also know that it won’t be for a very long time, and I have other projects I’m neck-deep in to keep me from being tempted too soon. :)

  • Stephen,
    it’s good that we keep getting better. Never coast. As to the idea that lots of revisions of old work can make for a good book, sure, I have no doubt it happens all the time. But I’d bet that for every one that is productively transformed and made marketable there are several which eat up their creators’ lives without making the grade. It takes real judgment to figure out which group you are going to be in, the kind of judgment most of us don’t have when it comes to our own stuff.

    Pea,
    yeah, that sounds smart. And don’t get me wrong: I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t revise and polish our work to make it better. Of course we should. It’s just those old lingering books which have a stranglehold on our brains that worry me. They promise so much and so rarely deliver.

    Wolf,
    I think 12 year olds can make all the mistakes they like and still be pretty cool :) At that age I think I would have treated 60 pages as if I’d written War and Peace.

    Laura,
    probably a good strategy. And when you’re rebuilding from the ground up, it’s easier to assess just how good the original ideas were in the first place.

  • Julia

    Thanks for the comments, AJ. I entirely agree that obsessing about the last book’s publication process can swallow up one’s creative energy for the next one. It’s something I’ve experienced in academic writing, and it appears to be alive and well in fiction as well. And thanks for the advice about shifting the last book to the “business” portion of my mind. I’ve been trying to do that, though I didn’t quite have it articulated this way, and it seems to be working.

    Faith and David, not sure if you are reading the comment threat, but I also found your comments very insightful. Like AJ, I hadn’t really considered the downside to getting a contract for the first book — or the challenges involved in going back and getting it published after experiencing such success. Thanks for being willing to share so candidly.

  • Razziecat

    Nothing that I wrote when I was a kid has survived to this day, for which I’m thankful. Recently I’ve been remembering the odd bits and pieces from all those years ago, and there were more of them than I thought. Then there was a long stretch of time when I didn’t write much. Five years ago I dove back in head first, and I can see improvement in what I’m doing now, compared to when I picked up the pen again. I made a conscious effort to think of a lot of what I wrote as practice pieces. Some of those may be things I can whip into shape, but if the one I’m working on now turns out not to be saleable, I will still consider it time well spent–as you said, the more you write, the more you learn. While I still love the old characters and ideas from years ago, I no longer think of them as “This HAS to be the one.” There’s a feeling of freedom in that :)

  • ajp88

    My current WIP, which I’ve talked about before, began as little more than the LOTR fan-fiction of a delusional thirteen year old. But once my reading horizons had broadened from series like A Song of Ice & Fire, The Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone, and Winds of the Forelands, I took a chainsaw to most everything about it. Starting over again with some new tool called an outline, trying to use cohesive themes, and attempting to combine several major influences into my own original story seems to be working. At least so far.

    It’s been over 10 years since I began writing the novel. Sadly for me, published evidence exists in the form of high school creative arts magazines. But I can say with confidence that it barely resembles that old, embarrassing crap.

  • bonesweetbone

    I feel lucky in that I haven’t yet hit this problem. Probably because I’m still new. The earliest completed book (more like novelette)I have was from back when I was in middle school and I know better than to pull it back out.

    I did have an idea a few years back that I plotted out, but it’s one of those things that sounded like a good idea at the time, but every time I consider writing it, I wince. It’s not a bad story, just not the type of story I want to tell right now.

    I’m working on a second draft of my current WIP and I feel it’s going well. I have a zero draft of another under my belt, and while I have ideas for it, I worry it’s something I’d wind up plugging away on without ever making real headway. I might give it another shot come November so I have a time restraint to stick to. It wound up sort of like epic fantasy and I was going to try and convert it to urban fantasy.

    Good to know that sometimes putting things away is for the best if we want to make any progress!

  • Rhonda

    There was a novel I started in grade 12. It was the first thing I’d written to that point that I didn’t hate two weeks later, which was a big step up for my writing skills. I worked on it, off and on, through university. (Mostly “off” when classes were in session…) I lost track of how many rewrites I went through – the number was different for every scene, and I never did reach the end of the story.

    In 2003, a little while after finishing university, I decided to do NaNoWriMo with the dual goal of 50,000 words and a story that ended, just to try the straight-through-no-stopping-until-the-end method of writing, as a contrast to the scenes-out-of-order method I’d been using until that point. I put that old novel down to do NaNo.

    I haven’t picked it up again, yet, and I have seven finished first drafts now, one of which is now a marinating 3rd draft, one of which is an in-progress 2nd draft, and one of which is waiting impatiently for its turn at editing.

    One day I may revisit that world and the concepts I had been re-re-rewriting scenes for, and write something using it, using the straight-through-no-stopping method of producing a first draft. Or zeroth draft, if you prefer that nomenclature for describing something that is part narrative, part outline, and part exploration.

    Not long ago, my mother pulled out a story I wrote when I was in early elementary. I cringed as I opened the half-ruled notebook and saw the childish handwriting. To my great surprise, it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. (It was simple and had clearly been written by a kid in early elementary, but it wasn’t abjectly horrible.) I remembered writing it. I didn’t remember what it was about, other than dinosaurs. I gave it back to my mom to keep. :-)

  • Oh my… my first completed manuscript is just dreadful. At the time, I thought it was amazing but really it has no overall plot and couldn’t be sold as a character driven story either. Plus there was a ridiculous amount of telling.

    But this is a great post. I try not to see rejections as a bad thing, but something to learn from.

  • I’d have to second Emily’s description of our co-writing project. Writing together was good for both of us, both in terms of morale and in terms of having another person who would fight (and sometimes we did really fight) to make the book better when one or the other was inclined to say “it’s okay the way it is.”

    One of the most important moments for me was meeting Mike Smith (author of the Kris Longknife series) at LosCon. He told me, in so many words, “stop writing the damn book and send it to an agent. You’ve worked on it too long.” He was right. We did. No one picked it up. BUT it gave both of us the psychological break with the work we needed to try to craft our own individual novels, write and sell short stories, and generally get out of the tunnel vision mode (I think I’m particularly prone to tunnel vision). It also gave us the space to come back after almost a year off and say “AHA! I know what’s wrong with this thing” without wasting that down time. What we’ve written together now isn’t a revised draft of the first novel we wrote together. It’s a completely different novel (plot, characters, themes, all of it) with one or two character names that have stayed the same. It was hard letting the early stuff go, but I’m really glad we did.

  • Julia,
    good point about Faith and David’s responses. That’s what I love about this site :)

    Razzie,
    agreed, the work is its own reward. Process might not be all, but it’s of value in itself.

    Ajp,
    you wouldn’t be the first person to build a career out of something that was cunningly disguised fan fiction :) No, don’t ask me for names.

    Bone,
    yes these are, in some ways, nice problems to have, because they come with being productive over time. You will have this to look forward to.. :)

    Rhonda,
    you remind me of stumbling on my old undergraduate essays. They were predictably weak, but in spots had flashes of insight that I was surprised by. What made them interesting was that I hadn’t then become an academic and they were unaffected by the kind of discourse I’ve since internalized. There was a freshness there I rather liked.

    THanks, Jq. Glad you fund it helpful.

    Sarah,
    great example. Sometimes it takes someone from outside the project to convince you to stop fine-tuning it. You can spend your life reworking the same book over and over. Doesn’t necessarily make it any better.

  • quillet

    I’m very late to this thread, don’t know if anyone’s still reading…but this is another great article, A.J., thanks!

    I have one: a manuscript that I wrote from ages 13 to 16, in pencil in tiny, meticulous printing. At the time I thought it was fabulous, but man I’m glad it was never published. I rewrote that book twice before turning to other things — including university essays, which I’m tempted now to dig up and peruse, to see if I feel the way you do about yours. Anyway, that first book was derivative of everything I’d read, and it had deus ex machina instead of a plot, but I think I learned a lot from it and its later iterations. And thank the gods, my writing has improved since then. (My handwriting, however…yikes.)

  • sagablessed

    I am late as well, but love this post. I am a holder: I keep brooding over stories that cannot be fixed. I learn from them, but some small part of me want to fix it, darn it. Letting go is hard.

  • A little late to the party too, but we just got back from a weekend around Mackinac. :)

    I still have a folder of junk from my high school days and a little after that. Probably some of the best stuff I’ve written.

    **note: he’s lying…this is Dan’s vanity and even I think it’s the worst crap on the planet.**

    Uh…yeah…what he said. I like to dig it out and skim through it all from time to time when I’m feeling down on my ability to show myself just how far I’ve come. There was, I think, one diamond in the rough in the whole mess and even it had no story behind it. I pulled that one out (an unfinished fantasy collaboration with my cousin) and thought about it, added a plot, changed the characters a bit, and now it’s waiting in my queue. Everything else? Well, next time I’m feeling down, I can still get it out for a good chuckle.

    I think the most bizarre one is something based on an RPG my cousin and I made up one night, a post apocalyptic Furry story I wrote before Furries were the “in thing”.

    ***Dan’s Pessimism: always behind or ahead of the wheel, aren’t ya…***

    Then again…maybe…? Heh! 😉

  • Megan B.

    This topic is making me think back on some of the utter crap I wrote in high school and college. I am embarrassed that I actually read one of those stories aloud in English class. But I don’t believe in wasted effort. And I am (happily) not attached to any of those pieces, although I still think about some of them from time to time. There’s one character I intend to salvage in a shorter story one of these days. I have been unable to make myself delete old files from my hard drive, despite knowing they aren’t worth keeping. Not long ago I re-read something, and it sucked, but there was one moment in it that I liked. That was a strange and sort of good feeling. I guess I keep them for that reason, and out of some warped belief that I might salvage an idea later. Maybe I am more attached than I thought!

    I just hope the WIP I’m planning to query this year won’t later turn out to be ‘one of those’ novels that I’ll cringe at later. It’s not my first longer piece, but it’s the first one that’s really mattered to me. I started writing it over three years ago and I still can’t get the characters out of my head. But I am working on other things, too.