• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
  • Archives

You’ve Yet to Have Your Finest Hour

In the last month, three writers have asked me whether or not they should trash what they are working on. Be honest, they say. I can take it. Be brutal. Be brutally honest. I just don’t want to waste my time. What would you do?  I can trash it. Just tell me what to do. What would you do?

This, my friends, is a trick question. This is not a question you should ask of anyone except your self. And the beauty is that even if you try put a work down, it won’t stay down if it’s shit you still need to work out. It may die as a novel and get reborn as a screenplay. It may go to bed as a play and wake up as a poem. It may drive a stake through its heart, or put its head in the oven, but if you keep writing it will find a way to become something if you still have something to say and you are a sick fuck, meaning a writer.

Should you burn your novel. Maybe. Junk that essay, shred your poem. If you’re asking me, sure, torch the whole fucking thing. But keep writing. The better flower has yet bloom.

What’s it going to be?

12 Responses

  1. Totally cool! Thanks

  2. How timely. I’m grappling with this very thing. Jury is still out but your words are tipping the scale toward another go at it. I think.

  3. “What’s it going to be?”

    It’s going to be throw away what needs to be thrown away and keep what needs to be kept and best wishes on figuring out which is which. But you’re right, Betsy — what you truly need, the essential core of your being as a writer, will always be with you and will always speak to you and through you if you remain true to it and open to it.

    You know I studied with Gordon Lish. I’ve mentioned that before. The first night of the first class, he told all of us fiction star wannabes, “If you people could write, you wouldn’t be here. Go home tonight and throw away everything you’ve written. It’ll only hold you back.” I couldn’t do that, because I wasn’t at home, I was visiting. I had a partially drafted novel manuscript I’d brought to NYC with me and I threw that away. It was liberating, largely because I was learning so much so fast in Lish’s classes, I was quickly leaving my old writing self behind and could not fix the old writing.

    After I finished studying with Gordon and returned home, I did throw away everything I’d written — almost. I kept my first novel and my first short story, probably out of sentimental reasons. Some years later I returned to those manuscripts and was glad I kept them — they had scenes and dialogue I could work with again and probably would have forgotten. So I worked with them again, and they have been reborn as much better pieces.

    But that’s not really the point, which is, what can you throw away and what can you keep and how do you decide? There’s no hard and fast rule. Trust yourself. If you feel like you should trash what you’re working on, trash it. Move on to what’s next. If you’re a real writer, what’s next will be there waiting for you. Pay attention. Get to work. Butt in chair. No power in the ‘verse can stop you.

  4. I’m going to finish it.

  5. Find a meaning in the writing or find a meaning in its destruction. Either way, stop circling the drain.

  6. Blow it up and make sure the boom is as loud as the crack of the bat in the bottom of the ninth at Yankee Stadium, the home team down by three with two outs, bases loaded, 3-2 count. What was silence erupts in joyously loud cheers as the ball flies straight and true deep into the right/center stands. Even better because the opposing team wears red sox.

  7. Since it’s fresh and new, and not even half-baked, I can chunk it – no loss here. And start over, of course.

  8. Ha. I recently reread some of my old stuff, say 20, maybe 30 years back. I was pretty impressed. Now I’m concerned that I don’t write nearly as well as I did back then when I was young, quick-witted, determined, ambitious, tireless, and naive.

  9. Slashing and burning clears the jungle and leaves fertile ground, and discourages some weeds. Slashing words, burning paragraphs, letting it lay fallow while the rains come, that works for me. There will be new growth, sometimes not soon for my editor, but it will come, sure as spring.

  10. I write flash fiction and poetry. Not nearly as good as the worst of the best. But I’m published. So you might ask if I live and die based on my rejections? Yes! But I look at the bright side. With so many small nooses it’s impossible to hang myself. ;-).

  11. Betsy.

  12. Trash what you have written? Why? Is it taking up too much space on an external hard drive? If something we are writing is not working out, let’s either fix it or move on, at least temporarily, to writing something else. Everything we have written makes us better writers. Besides, why should we reject ourselves when there are so many editors and agents willing to do it for us! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: