My mantra for life, of late, has been a very simple one:
Facing recent news, personal challenges, and my work, it’s been my simple affirmation of resolve in all areas for some time now. It came about, from of all places, my decision in July of 2015 to delete all the writing I’d ever done until that point in my life.
Writing is what I’ve always done. I don’t know how else to put that, but there you have it. When my dad brought home a typewriter from a yard sale when I was five, I ran through a couple dozen ribbons typing up stories on it. In middle school my favorite pastime after finishing homework was adding several pages a night to a fantasy serial I spent multiple years on. In high school I wrote a trilogy of fantasy adventures loosely inspired by Christian Apocalypse prophecies. In college and the years after, I wrote a few more novels while looking for a job and as my nightly hobby since being employed.
By the time I got to 2015, I had more than a dozen files and drafts floating around in various states of repair and progress, and I couldn’t ever sit still and focus on any to make a good enough effort at actually getting anything to a finished state.
I was 28 and knew I was a much better writer than I was when I was 15 and started some of them, or even better than I was at 22 and 23 when I’d started others. I knew that if I could give myself a fresh start- whether on a brand new story or a second attempt at an old one- I could do better. More so, that if I could free myself of the distraction that having hundreds of pages of material to “draw from,” or “go back to” whenever I hit a wall on a project, I’d give it more of my all.
So, I did a hard thing: I hunted down all my archives and deleted everything. If I believed in my skills and in the utmost importance of my singular focus on a new story, and that anything worth pursuing would eventually be rewritten, then this was necessary.
I deleted approximately 2,500 pages of writing in one night.
My change of focus since then helped me produce Beneath the Wood first, and now Five Talents. I’ve written 400 new pages since that purge. Beneath the Wood was a completely new idea which came to me the morning after I deleted everything. I believe it only came to me and that I only reached a state I was happy with it because I created a personal environment where it was the only thing I could or would focus on.
Deleting everything wasn’t just about focus, it was about methodology: I wanted to approach my writing with not just the craftsmanship I’d developed since high school, but also the discipline I’d learned as an adult. Planning, drafting, editing- all of it was applied deliberately to Beneath the Wood, and now to Five Talents in greater degree based on lessons learned from the former.
Five Talents, on the other hand, is a remix of a story I had previously drafted before the purge. Some scenes are direct “redos” of the original story, but a lot of it is completely fresh. More than that, it’s subject to my greater attention to planning, consistency of approach and drafting, and I’m feeling that much better about it for that.
What’s the point of this? I suppose to say that in writing there’s no wasted time spent practicing and honing your craft, but that to an extent it’s as the poet said: the past is prologue.
Where do you want to be with your writing or your personal craft? Is there something keeping you from stepping up your game? Are you weighed down by old methods and distractions?
Then excise that fat from your process and thinking.
If you’re walking on a crutch, cast that crutch aside and learn to walk without it.