Last weekend, I was cleaning out a bookshelf of mine where I’ve stashed all of my journals over the years. Between my morning scribblings, my ideas for stories, and my BuJo day planners (why did I even keep those?), I had a pretty fat collection. And in with it all, I found the story idea journal I kept way back when I was starting out with the novel that would become “142 Ostriches.”
I went through so many versions of this story. I mean, really. At one point in the evolution of the story Tallulah was a bank robber. Then it became a road trip story, no joke – she loses the farm, steals three birds, and heads across country with them to find a new home. Matt was once a mute monk. Grandma Helen started out as Grandpa Hank. (If you haven’t yet read the book, I’m giving nothing away – these ideas faded out of existence years ago. Also, here’s the link to buy the book.)
I was just so bound and determined to write something that I jumped in with both feet and went for it. Draft after draft I worked through all these wrong ideas. For a while Tallulah was African American. For a few drafts it ended with a desert rave. What? Yes. A rave.
But in all that time, I also discovered a lot about my story that was useful. I drew scale maps of the ranch. I sat in little road-side diners in the Mojave and wrote observations of the locals. I did deep dive character studies, listing out Tallulah’s favorite ice cream, her best subjects in school, her worst nightmare, her shoe size.
So now the question becomes: do I keep all this? And if so, why? As I cleaned out the shelf of old journals I tossed all the day planners and labeled all the journals with my (almost) daily morning pages. Here’s what it looks like (and yes, I have too much time on my hands – shut up):
But what do I do with this notebook full of old ideas for the book I’m finally done with? I kind of want to keep it, but that’s just me being sentimental. There’s no reason.
On the contrary, there’s a very good reason to let it go. It’s just taking up space. And what’s more, I feel kinda icky when I look at it. It feels like a reminder of a very hard lesson learned: outlining this story, at the outset, would have saved me years.
So I’m taking Kondo’s advice and letting it go. Right now. Dropping it in the recycle. Done.
In the future, I won’t even have to make this decision, because in the years since I started writing, I’ve switched to Scrivener. Nowadays I store everything in my research folder in one simple computer file.
And when I’m done with Book Two (titles are hard, so this project doesn’t have one yet), I’ll just close the file and all the scraps of paper and snapshots and urls won’t take up more than a few MB of computer space. And I’ll never have to look at it if I don’t want to.
The best news? I’ll know I didn’t waste seven years writing the wrong story, because I outlined this story thoroughly before I ever wrote a scene. I’m already working on the third draft, which I’m hoping will be the last before I send it to my agent to get his thoughts.
So I guess, all things considered, all those years and all those missteps were really part of learning to be a writer. I’ve built up some momentum, and skill, and I’m super excited about this new project. Stay tuned…