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Deletia

29 March 2013

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Writing isn’t hard. Anyone with basic literacy skills can put some words down on paper; it’s the results that vary. Writing well is hard, I suppose. Writing fiction well is even harder — worldbuilding, character development, plot lines, dialogue. It’s a lot of work.

Before you ask — no, I don’t know any way to make any of the above easier. Stupid robots should have evolved at least that far, but nooooo.

Anyhow, no matter how good you are at writing fiction, you’ll eventually write something that just doesn’t work, or that flat-out sucks. It might just be a passage or two in your current piece, or it might (regrettably) be the whole story. Time to burn the evidence of your horrible mistakes in the nearest convenient incinerator (or, if you’re less dramatic, time to move the Word doc to the recycle bin).

There was a time I would trash my mistakes. If a story wasn’t working — gone. Then, for some reason I still can’t explain, I started saving everything, regardless of quality. I made a folder on my laptop for all those false starts, all those WTF passages. I don’t throw anything out — I hoard whatever I write. My digital hoarding has reached extreme levels, where I move my WTF folder to each new computer I get.

And it’s paid off before. A TV show I started writing in 2004 eventually became White Male, 34 in 2009. There’s a whole subfolder of false starts on Supercritical. Sometimes, that folder of absolute shit produces a useable, workable premise.

When I used to delete mistakes, I was under the impression that what I’d written had a flawed concept, a bad idea at its core. These days, I’m less convinced that’s necessarily true. I mean, there are awful premises in there, but thinking on how to fix them has led me to several more interesting ideas.

The folder isn’t necessarily a monument to bad ideas. It’s more a shrine devoted to bad execution. And sometimes, I find a good way to execute a premise I hadn’t thought about in years.

We’re all going to write bad stuff from time to time. The trick I’ve found is to not get upset at the shitty, shitty prose that sometimes leaps from the ends of my fingers. Rather, I just lock it up in a safe place for a while and see if I can cannibalize something from it later.

And even if I can’t, some of those old mistakes are good for a laugh.

What about you, folks? How do you deal with your mistakes, artistic or otherwise?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 29 March 2013 0955

    Learn from them. The only “bad” mistake is one you don’t learn from and keep repeating OVER AND OVER.

    As a “coder” (Programming for almost 32 years, Almost 25 as a professional) you have to learn from mistakes or you’re NOT going to do well.

    I still cringe when I look at working code I wrote 15+ years ago. I know MUCH better ways to do it now, but what is there is functional.

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