Just like the phoenix rises from the ashes, sometimes ruthlessly throwing away drafts is the best thing you can do in your quest to become a writer.
In mythology the phoenix is a bird that goes up in flames to procreate. From the ashes of the parent bird comes progeny.
Writing is often like this, but how many of us willingly set the fire that metaphorically leads to rebirth? There are wonderful reasons to throw away drafts. In fact, it’s a sign of a great writer to be able to do so.
Throwing away a draft doesn’t mean shelving it and fixing it later. That is a different concept – one of letting an idea brew. Throwing a draft away means abandoning it, which can be difficult, especially if you’ve put a lot of time and sweat into creating it in the first place.
This is where the story of the phoenix helps immensely. You are throwing it away to allow your next idea to be born. Like the long-lived phoenix, you must let it go up in flames, to rise up again from the ashes in your quest to become a writer.
The first step is knowing when something is broken
The more easily you can admit that something is broken, the better chance you have of creating a full working draft in the future.
Throwing away a draft that isn’t working means you have acknowledged why it didn’t work. You have gained new knowledge, both of yourself and the writing process. This is part of the learning process, and while you don’t have that particular draft in hand any longer, you are already better off.
Throwing away a draft is also a huge time saver. It means you won’t labor unnecessarily.
Be content in knowing that some ideas aren’t meant to reach the finish line. The value of writing those words was to get as far as you did. Maybe you developed an interesting character, or a great scene, or built your skills in describing setting. This is progress.
Often we write “thin drafts.” We know it when we do it. We were thinking aloud, not telling a story. We were exploring an idea instead of describing it with authority. We were hedging instead of presenting evidence. We wrote a skeleton form full of telling, not showing.
A thin draft is like onion paper. The content is so sparse it is almost see-through. This is nearly impossible to fix with wordsmithing. You need to put it away and start fresh. Then you have a chance of creating a piece of text as substantial as stock paper – or if you are really lucky, cardboard.
The freedom of the blank page
When you are unfocused, nothing is more daunting than a blank page; if you know what you want to write, a blank page comes to represent freedom.
This is especially true for pantsers, those who use the act of writing as their wellspring of ideas. It’s easier to write a new draft than to fix a broken one.
Learn to rely on the strength of your ideas and writing skills to get you through. In the process, all the chaff falls away for free, no editing required. While, it takes discipline to take this approach, the results are often liberating. A fresh draft is often miles better than a reworked one could ever be. It’s like the difference between renovating a house you inherited versus building a new one to your own design.
Allow yourself the freedom to throw away drafts with intent. Don’t fear pouring out your thoughts on paper and filing that paper in the trash can. In other words, don’t look at it again. Its sole purpose was to draw out your ideas.
The best ideas will stick in your head and you’ll get the benefits of tapping your inner creativity as you write. When you come back, start fresh again. Do this casting off and fire-setting as many times as you need to. The beauty of the phoenix is that it rises again and again.
You should get used to the flames and the renewal of life they bring if you are serious about writing, because in time you’ll need to throw away whole books.
Yes, almost all great authors have thrown away whole books – in truth, many books.
While the concept of the practice novel might seem daunting, real writers embrace it as part of following the creative path. In fact, the idea will even get them excited as they have so much to write. It means you can go as far as you like and have the excuse not to finish. Shove that one in the drawer and start on the one that will become the bestseller.
As you plough through partial drafts, and eventually whole books, seeing what works and what doesn’t, knowing when to rebirth, you’ll build skills that will cause you to be reborn as a writer.
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