Dumping Your Detritus

A coming of age story set in Canada’s far north. A reporter who becomes embroiled in political intrigue and responds by having a monkey’s tail surgically attached to his lower spine. A depressed would-be something who struggles through his days making a living writing pornography scripts. A fully completed graphic novel that includes zero illustrations. False starts, dead stories, paths not taken, work abandoned. Flotsam and jetsam.

The above list are just a few of the projects that I’ve let go with varying degrees of emotional commitment involved and to differing judgments of regret and relief. Sometimes things just don’t work out, and sometimes it’s very good that they don’t. About two years ago I wrote a post called “Renewal, or Resurrection?” that also considered work that was thought lost, gone, out of sight and out of mind, looking at the issue from two distinct angles: the first about a series of translations that simply got tucked away and then fortuitously published a quarter-century later when world circumstances happened to become such that they were suddenly in demand, and the second about a book that was frankly determined not to be good enough and was therefore better off dead (there’s some nostalgia for you). That previous post offered – or could be interpreted as offering – the happy notion that one never knows, that something might occur and that all those burned pages might magically re-integrate. Maybe, but that’s been said (rather, written) already and so in this post we’ll look elsewhere. And that “elsewhere” is – you guessed it – the bin.

It takes courage to admit that a project isn’t working out or is no longer worth what is required to be put in. Life, it’s true, can seem like a chore, it can feel like an endless demand of time that needs to be filled in some manner, and there is no doubt that a literary undertaking will eat up gobbles of time, easily disappearing whole days, weeks, months, years. Yet surely if one is only after idling away the moments that awareness thrusts upon us there are better ways of doing it than by plugging away mercilessly at a keyboard when all interest has evaporated and any long-term plans have shifted or been thrust aside. One needn’t necessarily hit the old “delete” button, but “close file” might in fact be just what is called for. How to decide on that? Brutal, unflinching self assessment, and maybe too a trustworthy second opinion. Is this a keeper? Why? How? No? Well my friend, I’m afraid it’s a case of catch and release. And then?

Then fate unfolds. The days spin on and the question marks keep presenting themselves. Back to it? Another way? Transformation? Regeneration? A final wave goodbye? No matter how things fall out what was put in has become a part of the personal past that we all call “my writing”. Good or bad, lively or dull, engaged and engaging or left aside and unloved: steps on the way. “On the way to what?” of course being the most open query there is, but soon or sooner every writer will be able to answer that. Looking back on where she’s been from where she is now, perspective is the most any of us can ask for. There might be pride in that, even joy, but then there might also be nothing but a shrug of the shoulders. Our false starts – if we can call them that – will nevertheless be a part of our stories, our lived stories, in the book that our parents christened with all of their hopes and dreams much as we do with our texts, eyes filled with the same mixture of love and worry. Letting go can be hard, yes, but holding on could be much worse.


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