How I Burned My Old Darlings and Got Back to Writing Fiction
Joyce Barton (Guest Blog Post)
I was coming off of a year of transcription and research for a nonfiction project and feeling ready to get back into fiction, but I was stuck. It had been so long since I’d used that muscle, could I even write fiction anymore?
Write something new? What about my orphans, my piles and files of decades-old material—leave no story behind, I’d promised my characters, and myself.
Here’s how I burned through my indecision (aka resistance) by feeding some old friends to the fire.
State Your Mission
I’m a writer, right? I write things down. So it seemed natural to define, in writing, what I wanted and why, when this would happen, how I’d get there, and commit to it—a good old-fashioned Mission Statement. Here’s my ‘Mission Bonfire’:
Mission: Go through old files of stories and decide which will become new writing projects and which will be let go.
Reason/Why Am I Doing This? To move forward, to get unstuck.
Deadline: Thursday, March 15, 2018
-Take old stories out of closets and drawers and place them in one pile.
-Sort the pile into a ‘fix’ pile and a ‘fire’ pile. Sort quickly, with an eye for ‘project’, not nostalgia.
-Delete all e-files (on Word, Scrivener, Drop Box) that correspond to fire pile.
-Have a ritual for the fire pile (include champagne toast)
-Give special attention to the ‘fix’ pile for making the cut. Place each in a new project file, store out in the open where I can acknowledge them, access them.
Trust the Process
‘Sort quickly, with an eye for ‘project’, not nostalgia’? Not only did I get nostalgic, I drove myself to a stomach ache on Day One! But I stuck with it, and after two weeks of sorting my ‘fix’ and ‘fire’ piles, some happy ‘finds’: I met the writer I once was (raw, ‘under-fictionalized’) and the writer I’ve become (more control, intent; a better storyteller). I saw how storing my work played into my worries about ‘lack’ (‘I might need this someday’). By addressing each piece and letting go of those I no longer needed, I let go of lack, too—and began to have faith in the abundance of ideas.
Release the ‘Fire’ Pile
Bonfire Day? I forgot that though I love a good fire, I’m afraid of getting burned. So I tore most my pile into bits (also gratifying) and recycled it; the remaining I ceremoniously (and gingerly) dropped into our rusty fire pit, sprinkled with a bit of sage, then read aloud three writerly quotes, including:
“No, the thing is, we all love storytelling, and as a writer you get to tell stories all the time.”
–Joyce Carol Oates
Pop the champagne! Back to telling stories, all the time.
Rebirth the ‘Fix’ Pile
I now have four stories out to market and 22 in various stages of rewrite; enough to keep me in the flow of fiction writing. I’m officially ‘unstuck’.
What’s in your closet? Maybe enough darlings to rekindle your writing.