As writers, we tend to flit from one idea to the next. We fill notebook after notebook with all these wonderful ideas that hit us like a lightning bolt, but unless we live to be a hundred, rarely are all those ideas ever brought to life. Then, we start to second guess ourselves. We look back and see nothing but garbage, so we get rid of it. But I’m going to tell you something, and I want you to listen very closely when I do.
WRITERS SHOULD NEVER HIT DELETE!
Last week, I was flipping through old files and notebooks that I haven’t even thought about since I was a freshman in high school. They were filled with opening lines of dozens of different novels that I started randomly whenever an idea occurred to me. You see, when I was in school, I didn’t know how to focus on one project. I would work on two or three novels at a time and write in whichever one I was inspired to at the time. I carried multiple composition notebooks in my backpack at all times, and I would flit back and forth between novels constantly.
Now, do you have any idea how many of those notebooks contained full novels? Three. Yes, three out of more than ten composition notebooks held an actual novel. Those three included the first draft of my now published novel, Broken Halo, the first novel I ever wrote, titled An Unexpected Romance, and the first mystery thriller I ever attempted to write, called Love and Lies. The other notebooks ranged in length, from a few pages to a few sentences, and as I flipped through them, all of those ideas I had came flooding back to me.
That is what I want to teach you today: why you should never hit delete. It sounds trivial, and some of you may already abide by this, but it hit me that sometimes we overlook the treasure trove that rests in the past.
I will be the first to tell you that my first manuscript was utterly atrocious. Seriously, I won’t even let anyone read it anymore. Now, at the time that I wrote it, I thought it was phenomenal. I was so proud of it, and I would shove it at anyone who would take long enough to read through it. Luckily for me, no one told me it was terrible and discouraged me from pursuing my writing further; instead, they gave me feedback and helped me develop my skill. Now, when I read that first manuscript, I want to vomit, but that is only because I have improved in the near decade it has been since I wrote that novel. But that near decade has also given me more insight into the ideas I had back then.
Last week, while I was cleaning out my closet, I found my own treasure trove of ideas.
Now, you may be skeptical, wondering what on earth those terrible ideas could possibly offer to you now. But the human brain works in fascinating ways. When you put creative stimuli in front of it, like say, old unfinished plotlines you haven’t thought about in a decade, it starts cranking out ideas. As I sat there reading through the cringeworthy writing of a twelve-year-old Sheridan, I couldn’t stop coming up with ideas. I was back in those worlds I’d created in my adolescence, back with the friends I had forgotten about, and I was itching to pen their stories.
So, what’s next? If you keep all of your ideas, how on earth do you keep focused on one project at a time? Trust me, it is going to be tricky. (This is not to discount the method of working on multiple projects. If you can effectively do that, go for it and know that I bow to you, because your brain clearly functions much better than mine!) You are going to want to go back to those other ideas. So how do you stop yourself from doing that?
First, you must choose wisely. You need to take a minute and ask yourself which project you are most excited to pursue. You will stifle your creativity if you force yourself to work on another project. Then, remind yourself that it is okay to have multiple ideas at a time.
Buy yourself a notebook!! This is serious, guys, and again, some of you might already have one, but a notebook for ideas is a necessity. Jot down any idea that comes your way, along with as many details as you can, so that when you are ready to pursue that idea, you have plenty to go off of to get your juices flowing again. Buy multiple notebooks, if you would like, so that no matter where you are, you have somewhere to write down your ideas.
Finally, don’t ever get rid of those old manuscripts or notebooks. They may seem terrible now, but if you put enough work into them, you could make them phenomenal! If you’re a techie, organize them into a file on your desktop. If you’re old-school, buy a box to put them in and keep them somewhere easily accessible. Allow yourself to go back to them every once in awhile to find your creativity again and remind yourself that you are talented! Besides, you never know when an old idea might be exactly what you need for your current project. Take it from me, it tends to happen when you least expect it. Hitting delete could be terminal one day, so avoid it while you can and reap the rewards of decades-old ideas you gave up on. Sometimes, they age like fine wine.