I rock at it now. I’m a freaking grandmaster of the highest level. Some might say my passion for it ventures into the realm of zealot.
But I stand by my newfound faith in that little button to the right of INS.
And you should too.
Granted, it used to be something I was incapable of doing. So I understand your skepticism. I was horrible about it; holding onto things.
I chalked it up to a family history of hoarding, or as my grandfather likes to call being a “pack rat.” I like his term more; sounds less like a serious problem and more like a wily animal that can be coaxed into submission one day. We all know it’ll never be tamed. The inclination to hold onto everything, to never let go of anything is a very powerful urge; a difficult beast to tame.
Unlike me, many people seem not to struggle with this proclivity. Men and women around the world seem completely fine with tossing items and belongings into trash receptacles, or piling them into bags to drop off as donations to a local thrift store. The thought of holding onto something they’re not using (God forbid taking up valuable storage place in the garage) is simply not a concept that exists within the minds of these particular individuals.
“If it’s not being used, then toss it out!” It’s a sentiment I’m sure many of you who are reading this will agree with. “There’s no point in holding onto something that isn’t serving some sort of purpose.” It’s a wise philosophy; practical and clean, and it certainly doesn’t hurt in keeping the homefront tidy and presentable.
Yes, I’m sure, more than not, nearly all of the folks perusing this article would classify themselves as anything other than a hoarder. As my wife likes to say, “I don’t hold onto shit.”
But, I know something… elusive. And this something is a dark secret that you’ve tried to hide from the world. You’ve kept it under wraps forever, and you think you have control over it. “It’s fine,” you say. “This isn’t a problem—I don’t have a problem.”
But you do.
It’s eating you up, and working its way into every aspect of your creative life. It’s creeping into everything you do, affecting your ability to see clearly, to think clearly, to create in the unbridled fashion you used to be able to do. You see this throttling of your craft; a dampening of your creative potential. But you’ve yet to attribute it to anything less than a lack of enough: alcohol, caffeine, time, orgasms, etc.
I know what it is, though, and there’s no more attempting to hide it from me.
The one reading this…
are suffering, and your writing is suffering because you…
are unable to
You can’t stand to get rid of any snippet of anything you’ve typed, that you’ve jotted down. Every little piece is stashed away in some folder somewhere, praying for the day when it can finally find peace in the jaws of a paper shredder. Each bit of Word Processing storage that you’ve cut from your draft and saved in some .doc entitled “Save For Later”, or “Expand Upon This” is hoping to high Heaven that an EMP detonates directly above your home and removes it from the Earth in a merciful fire of dying circuits.
You can’t get rid of anything you write, even though it wants to die.
And that is your problem.
That is what’s holding you back from achieving something great; from making stellar advancements in your craft.
“But Ash—you dapper, well read, afficionado with the tightest ass this side of the Mississippi—how could holding onto ideas and passages of previously written pieces hold me back from my literary destiny?”
Well reader who seems to have an unhealthy—but understandable—obsession with my hot crossed buns, allow me to elucidate.
To put it simply, when you hold onto things that are incomplete, it typically means you’re nostalgic for a time in your life when your writing was subpar and your aspirations were much higher. If that seems harsh, then you’re probably in that point right now.
Think about it.
In fact, go back and read some of the stuff you wrote a year ago, two years ago. Hell, if it exists, go read some of the stuff you wrote ten years ago. If that shit doesn’t make you cringe so hard you shit blood and your face is permanently morphed into the ass of a prune, then you’ve got some serious issues. And why is that? Well, honestly, it’s because we can recognize how far we’ve come, and we can see how humble our beginnings were.
We not only read the story in front of us, but we—as writers—can also remember the mindset we were in, and the time period we were in when we wrote it; the struggles and emotional resonance we poured into every over-embellished trope and painful cliche. It doesn’t mean the story is bad, but as the creator of that story, it’s not hard to see where we could vastly improve.
The real question then becomes, have we?
Have we as writers improved?
I’d venture to say most of us haven’t. And this isn’t for lack of trying. As stated earlier in this article, I believe most of our stunted writing growth comes from the inability to let go and permanently delete shit stories and sections that continue to hold us back. Think about it: if we as writers are doing what we’re supposed to be doing (that’s writing actual fucking stories, for you dunder heads out there) then the total word count we should be putting out in the course of a year is going to be ridiculously high.
Coincidentally, and statistically, most of the words we write are going to be gobshite; I’d say as much as a four fifths of the words we write deserve to be obliterated in a fiery pagan ceremony. No, I don’t have the data to back this up, but I do have the painful experience of being a peer editor and of spending time on social media. It’s clear from reading the fuck-tastic (that’s bad by the way) stories coming out of most writers, year in and year out, that they’ve latched onto the same old ideas and they’re incapable of moving past it; of moving onto newer and better things, and growing their writing styles into something refined—mature.
They’re so sold that the stories they’ve been working on for years, if not decades, are amazing that they refuse to let any of it go. They’re convinced that most of it is redeemable (even though it’s clearly not) and they will spend the rest of their lives trying to turn a pile of shit story into a brick of gold.
I don’t need to tell you that this is an impossible feat.
And I shouldn’t need to tell you that just because you write a shit story doesn’t mean you’re a shit author. Every writer pops out a dud every now and then. Not every story is going to change the world. Some of them just stink.
But the difference between fruitful authors and shitty wannabes is this: the fruitful author drops the shitty story in the dirt, cleans themselves off, distances themselves from failed attempts, and continues moving onto something new. This author recognizes where they went wrong and uses that knowledge to better themselves and their prose; they work hard at not repeating those painfully embarrassing mistakes, and focus solely on writing the next amazing thing.
The wannabe, however, is that weird looking dude who lacks verbal volume control, thus shouts everything into everyone’s face; has a neck beard and a comb over and always seems sweaty no matter the weather; and sits in the shit that is his story trying to mold it into a castle with his bare hands and wonders why no one wants to get near him and his disgusting existence.
Don’t be the neck beard.
Drop the shit.
Literally delete (permanently) sections of your story that aren’t doing you favors. Don’t save them for later. That’s like saving the bogey ridden Kleenex from ten years ago. Yuck, dude. Just throw it away—get rid of entire chapters or stories if you have to. You aren’t bound or obligated to finish a shitty story. And even more encouraging: you have the power to rewrite a failed attempt into something glorious. Deleting shouldn’t be a scary thing. It should be liberating. It should be a dash of honesty in your life. It should lighten the load of “omg I have so many stories I need to revise and work on, but I don’t know how I’ll get to them all.”
Deleting things will heal you.
Deleting things—like a controlled burn in a forest—will allow grand ideas to flourish. Holding onto old ideas and failed attempts in the hope of resurrecting something that was never living is a sure way to kill your writing career, and your enjoyment in writing. We here at DPW don’t want that for you. We want you to love writing. We want you to write awesome shit (and send some our way) and to set the world on fire with your amazing prose and ideas.
So please, do yourself and the world a favor. Cleanse that folder of failed ideas. Delete those files of unfinished bullshit you wrote while totally hammered. It’s not useful and it’s only going to slow you down. Allow yourself to write for the now, and never be afraid to delete something you’ve just written. Your future readers deserve the best you’ve got.
So drop the shit.
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