I got no chops. No special going-in talents or tricks, nothing more than the average careful reader’s intuition of what might work on the page. No mantic procedures to generate astonishing, beatific text. Never been to Iowa. Never been to Clarion.
I stole a lot, in terms of writing advice. If you saw my secret “how to write” files, they would be boringly predictable and familiar (though, the one thing that might be interesting is the set of common-sense advice that I’ve discarded.)
“Everything belongs to the creative and resourceful thief.” – William Burroughs
I think the one trick I have that’s good, and perhaps novel, is this:
Make a Bad Ideas file, and use it.
Often I produce some great thought (or so it seems), or sentence or paragraph in an ongoing work, and I’m conscious that it’s good, but also that it doesn’t fit – that it has no business being where it is, perhaps doesn’t belong in this piece, at all.
My urge is to not discard any useable material – I get so little time to actually write. Some might argue that that has been an essential part of my process – more on that in a later entry – but the painful and correct thing to do is cut it out of the piece that it just appeared in.
If you have a Bad Ideas file, you’ve immediately got a place for those fragments to go. Killer sentences like “The banjo is the loneliest instrument,” that you can’t bear to throw out, immediately have some other place to go. You don’t have to stop and think what file they might usefully belong in – in fact, performing that calculation can be a big distraction, it can drop you right out of the head-space you were in when you produced such a gem. Just dump it into the Bad Ideas file and move on, and reassess later.
In editing, using a Bad Ideas file might seem like a kinder and thus easier solution, rather than just deleting your stuff wholesale.
And then, later, you can look back at all the Bad Ideas there, and confirm that the filtering and editing that is essential to any piece of good writing has actually happened for this piece. If you work on something for a while, and at the end, you still have nothing that qualifies as a Bad Idea, you’re probably not being honest with yourelf.
I told my wife about this, and quipped that I wished I also had a Good Ideas file, full of stuff I could pull from. She wryly said that then I could just make a link between the two files (Good –> Bad, I’m guessing) and save myself a lot of time. My wife. That’s why I married her.
Now you’ll be curious what’s in that giant Bad Ideas file I keep adding to every day. Or maybe you won’t. But either way, I’m not showing it.