How many unfinished creative writing projects do you have lurking in your cellar? Your first story? A notebook full of ideas from the writing residential you attended three years ago but fell out with one of your classmates, so you dare not look back there?
If you’ve finished one story, I bet you have a store because the imagination is like a weed in its ability to spread all on its own, come sun or shade. Once you’ve opened that creative door, it is hard to shut; I imagine, I’ve never tried.
So if you’ve been writing for a few years; attended more than one kind of class or workshop then I bet you’ve got a stock of half baked stories and ideas lurking around in your memory, desk drawer or hard drive.
Before I share my 6-step process for excavating the magic from your lost stories and getting them moving again here’s a little anecdote about a writer, we all know a lot about already.
Oh no, not another Stephen King writing analogy! Yes, I’m afraid so, but this one conveys how easy it is to discard goldmine ideas, and it’s not about craft.
It’s about Carrie, his first published novel. After his initial spark of inspiration for the story, he wrote a three-page first draft and promptly threw it in the bin, deciding he didn’t like it. It wasn’t worth wasting any more time on, and it would never sell.
His wife, curious about the crumpled pages protruding from his bin, took it out, read it and loved the story. She pushed him on, wanting to know what would happen next. And so he finished it, and you know the rest; he published his debut novel, was rescued from imminent poverty and forged a long successful career.
The takeaway features for un-repped/unpublished authors are;
– It isn’t easy to be objective about our work.
– It is easy to abandon a story.
– It’s hard to spot the gold amongst the fog of endless rejections.
– It’s easy to lose inspiration.
– The time when you’re most likely to give up, the beginning, it’s hardest to see the potential.
Plus it feeds into my romantic view about the first draft of any story being a living, breathing thing in existence in the world. Long may this optimism last!
We need to take on the role of treasure hunter ourselves. Who uses a waste paper basket anymore? Here’s my excavation process for seeking out the gold in the mountain of half-finished and forgotten stories that have amassed over the last seven years of writing.
It’s time to get your gloves on and start exploring your spaces. Maybe you’re all digital, lucky you! My handwriting days have left a chest full of notebooks and stolen A0 notepads. If this exercise is worth doing, it’s worth doing correctly.
My creative cellar includes:
- One Drive and old pc hard drives
- Emails from course tutors
- Course notes in hard and digital copy.
In this phase, you need to get them all into one place. Don’t worry about reading them just yet. We’re in the stock-take mode, and it’s feeling good.
I’ve come to the unfortunate realisation that amongst all of the character swashbuckling, living a Rimbaudian existence, research and inspiration chasing, the organising of any project is an essential part because without this you, you know, lose your stories!
It’s time to note down the following:
- The title, draft and date
- What was the inspiration?
- Who is your favourite character?
- What form is the story?
For this, you’ll need a spreadsheet.
It’s fun; you remember how much you’ve got already and recall some of the adventures along the way.
The thought of reading your old work might fill you with the dreads, but there are more upsides than down, as you’ll discover.
For every cringe you sound out loud, you can also celebrate how much you’ve learned and grown as a writer.
But more importantly, there is a reason you started this project. What was it? A person? An injustice? A character? A response to another piece of literature?
Finding the spark of inspiration will be worth any pain you feel at the reminder of what an amateur writer you used to be.
As you go along make a note of the bits, you like. Maybe it’s just a description of a bluebell woods; perhaps it’s an antagonist or a brilliant line of dialogue. It’s unlikely that you don’t find something that’s still breathing in each of your old stories.
Now you’re familiar with your stories again, and you’ve remembered what inspired you to write them in the first place is there a better way to tell the story? Maybe you’ve written a stage play that would be better as a film script or even a short story. Perhaps a television idea you started penning would be better as a novel.
With everything you’ve learned about storytelling, is there a better platform for your story?
Remember that the options are endless:
Flash fiction, microfiction, novella, novels, films, radio plays, stage plays, short film, web series, series.
An old playwriting tutor once spelt this out for me, it might seem obvious to you but here goes,
The written word of novels and short stories is best suited for exploring conflict that happens within the self.
The stage is best suited for exploring the conflict between people.
Film is best suited for exploring the conflict between people and their world.
A few repositioning questions; is your story in its best format? Is your main character a dynamic character, or is there someone else who can take the protagonist spot?
A tutor at a workshop once said to me that the biggest problem he saw with scripts was that it was full of characters that had situations put onto them; instead of characters that created their conditions.
5. Big Picture
Now you’ve changed or confirmed the landing for your story, how are you going to get there? What’s the most astonishingly extraordinary thing that could happen to this story? Then turn it into action like you would for one of your characters.
Think big; try the +10 rule. You lost the idea the first time around; this time, you need to go bigger.
What actions do you need to take to make this happen? List everything — cleaning your desk, finishing up a project to allow time for this one, eating more beans, getting rid of the energy demons in your life.
Destroy all obstacles in the way of you and your story’s bigger picture.
6. Action Plan
The action plan is the most straightforward step of all. You’ve got your vision; add a date, add milestones and list teeny steps you need to take to complete the task. Example steps might include finding a publishing platform, sending a nice email to a friend who might be kind enough to read your story — think meta!
Here’s an old blog about action planning your screenplay rewrite; the process will be the same.
Programme your plan onto a spreadsheet with a column or reporting function to close items out as you go along.
How did you get on? I bet you’ve got more than you realised and at least one treasure.
If you’re in between projects or need to give your script a rest while you gather some faith in your writing, try this out. You can’t keep a good writer down for long, but maybe the answer to your next big project lies not in another course, or creative writing book but right behind you in your own history of storytelling.
Don’t throw yours in the dustbin because you might not be lucky enough to have someone pull it out.
Thanks for reading.
I’m on a mission to unpick the myth of creative genius and have put together a short, digestible guide on creativity and how small businesses can develop this mindset. Find out more here.