Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Writing: Throwing The Story Out With The Bathwater

Barbara: Yeah, this post is fundamentally about writing, but I also think it applies to real life situations as well. So follow along with me and maybe we can dissect how it relates to both!

Over the last several years (okay, 12), I have been turning my attention toward writing. It is my first love and it is way more seductive and thoughtful than acting. Over these years I have developed, with varying degrees of success, two novels and several screenplays, most still in some stage of development today. Thing is, if something is not quite ready for publication/filming but not hopeless enough to give up on, what do you do???

My friends know how tenacious I am. If I think or know something is viable but just needs some spit and polish, I’m all for it. Give me the cleaning cloth and I will gather the hork. I will polish till the End of Days. BUT…. but…

I have also seen several drafts of either a novel or screenplay get completely thrown out because of well-intentioned but aggressive polishing. Tossed away, discarded, dismissed, deemed unworthy.

… And then crawled back to on contrite hands and knees as I (or we) realize that there was much of value in that unpolished story. In fact, that old draft was responsible for the original green light/great feedback, so why did it get completely tossed out?

It is a hard lesson. On the one hand, if we are diligent, if we are open, if we are committed and dedicated and savvy, why should we rest on old laurels? Shouldn’t we always be changing and shifting to accommodate the new or the many (other opinions)? And yet on the other hand, if there is life and energy in everything, why not also stand behind the original, the seed, the baby?

Why throw it all out when a little judicious bailing might be more in order?

I’ll tell you why: because sometimes you just don’t know. Sometimes you have to get rid of that water in order to value it. Sometimes the bailing works in reverse—throw it all out, then scoop back in what you need or see now to be essential and valuable.

I can’t help wondering if this doesn’t also apply to life choices––friendships, relationships, work—and not just writing.

Deb: Barb and I had submitted a project we were working on to two possible broadcasters. Although they were both interested and in fairness gave it a great deal of thought, they passed for various reasons. Barb and I had to sit down and honestly examine what it was that did not resonate with them. We had to dissect it and not be precious with it. I will say that we are very good at doing this. We don’t hang onto things if they are not working.  But ... at what point do you say, “Hey, this is good. I believe in this. I am not going to give up on it, no matter what people are saying.” It’s hard to know when that time is, isn’t it? And we still struggle with this every single time we put ourselves out there. And we have let go many many times. 

But this time we decided that we were not ready to let this particular project go. As a result, we are making a presentation pilot by the good graces of crew I have worked with who believe in us and are giving us a full day of shooting, GRATIS. These are very busy working professionals who are doing this, did I mention––for free. Because they are artists themselves; they support projects and people they believe in. Pretty friggin special, isn’t it?  So we are taking the written page and adding images to it, which is as spelled out as we can get. And this time if they don’t bite, we will let it go. But not, as you can see, without a fight.

I find the real-life version of this easier. In life, I am pretty good at knowing when to fold up camp or when to set up camp in someone’s heart or mind. With business, it ain’t so easy. So please wish us luck and stay tuned! 


  1. LOVE this!! It is so fitting to every day life! :] Barb, good luck with the writing :D

  2. I second what Kelly said,I think it does go with real life,from day to day. Great post today to both of you Ladies. I love the post that make you think and this post has indeed made me think for today so Thank You. Also good luck and I am wishing you all the best of luck ever. I am sure you all will do an amazing job writing or whatever you all do. Since you all do an amazing job writing this blog I am sure all of your writings will be great. GOOD LUCK.

  3. I will be holding you and your pieces and your adventures in the light. I feel good about your project. Have fun with it.

  4. This topic does seem to fit many areas of life, but I am a writer (want-to-be) too and I keep wondering if the book written and sent out to more than twenty publishers is worth continuing. I know it needs editing and there is one area of the story that I just can't decide if I want to keep it in or not, but I can't get anyone to even look at it. I decided for the time, I'll keep sending it out. Maybe after 80 more rejections, I'll quit. I know it needs some work, but I believe in it. It doesn't make the rejections less frustrating, though. I guess that's the key point, if you believe in it, keep going. Someone will appreciate it for its brilliance. It just may take a while to find the right person.

  5. Lyndsie, thanks so much!

    And Madge, I love that, thank you!

    Molly, thanks to you too! I also want to add that part of what has gotten us into these writing predicaments is that we look to advice from other sources. Except advice has also been the reason so much of our work gets better. I like the Stephen King adage: if 10 people say the same thing, it must be something you should look at. If 10 people all say something different, then dealer's choice. I do recommend that if you keep getting rejections, it's not the end of the world; it doesn't mean you should drop it. It might just need a re-jig and you might just need some input (it's rare that a first draft is the keeper; and nowadays publishers and agents look for very polished work).

  6. When I was in England this summer I took a creative writing course, and I cannot tell you how many times I would start a piece only to completely scrap it a few days later! But when I would go back to it it would end up being much better than the original. I think sometimes with life we just have to "scrap things" and completely start over.

    Barb, I wish you luck with your writing, because 1. I am a science major, and 2. the four weeks I spent writing in England made me want to rip my hair out! :)

  7. I agree with so many of your speculations here, and have experienced many myself. but I have to amend one thing you said: "sometimes you just don’t know." the truth is you NEVER know. really. you can have a strong inkling, you can rely on intuition, you can make a highly educated guess, but ultimately you truly NEVER know what the outcome will be in any endeavor. that's why life is fraught with choice and anxiety. and that's why you have to listen most to your self, and just do the work you're meant to do in this world, the stuff that centers you and makes you want to get up in the morning. do the work, and the product and result of the work will take care of themselves........good luck with this one! xo

  8. Holly, you are great at writing! And thanks for the wishes.

    Lori, I absolutely couldn't agree more. Once again you shine a true beacon into the heart of a thing. Love it. And thank you.

  9. Just remember- Kathryn Stockett was rejected by agents and publishers SIXTY times and kept re-writing, re-writing, re-writing. She was obsessive and persistent. I so admire that kind of tenacity. Keep going girl. You are a wonderful writer!

  10. Never quit, never give up! If 80 reject it, set it aside for awhile and then come at it again later with fresh eyes and a new perspective. Change it a bit and then send it out again 100 times. It might be that it's not what they are looking for at that particular time but it might come into fashion later. I keep everything I write/paint/draw/sculpt. I enjoy looking at what I had done and how I've improved over time.
    Anyway, I'm sure you ladies will figure it out. You're excellent writers and your blogs are proof to me. :) Keep at it !!
    Hugs and Strength of Perseverance,

  11. Karen I like the way you think! thanks.

  12. Thanks Hollye, Holly, Lori, Molly, Lyndsie, Kelly. Just had a chance to read. Turns out I love every comment. Isn't it nice to be encouraged in life. Isn't it just grand?

  13. Hollye, so true. A good reminder! And, Karen, I couldn't agree more. And there is so much to learn and build from every time you go back and tweak.

  14. Okay, with this topic we're totally living on the same street. If you've completed a writing project to a first or second draft it can always find a new home. Storytelling doesn't age, it's essential to being human and how we make sense of the world. It's only useless, if you've just talked about "Ideas" but never got them down on paper. Right now, for example, is a perfect time for a 1980's project, culture moves in 20 year cycles and besides a good story well told will always stand the test of time.

    If the story/screenplay has the essential ingredients of having a central character that undergoes a transformation of consciousness, i.e. a belief system at the beginning of a screenplay and then through intention and obstacles has a different belief system at the end - that never gets old. My pet peeve is other writers who roll their eyes at structure. You don't have to be slavish to it, but knowing where you're going really helps. So, I guess my point it, if it - your novel or screenplay - still inspires and scares you, it's worth continuing to explore. Does writing truly ever REALLY get finished?

    Also, it's a crap-shoot anyway of what people/the universe will like. It's a mugs game to try and guess, better to be inspired. Stuff can linger for years. Charles Dickens mostly wrote about his childhood and only wrote because he thought "If I like it, perhaps other people will too".


    P.S. Deb I have a "Scarberia project" about a last hold out Irish pub in an Agincourt strip mall - that I swear I've always thought about you for...because I no you Know that world. Perhaps I can pitch it to you some day?

  15. DMac, you absolutely nailed it. There really are measurable values to a story or idea. And these are great parameters for long-term commitment (or realizing it's not going to work). I can't speak for Deb, DMac, but your idea sounds awesome.

  16. Barb, do you do a lot of your writing on the computer nowadays? My Word files have become my best friends. I have things that I like the ideas of. I have a few where I free-wrote, threw a few words into it. The idea is there, and when the mood hits, I go back to it.

    I haven't written anything nearly long enough to submit to any source. I also haven't written the volume of work you have. But I would be loathe to discard anything. A definitive rejection may turn back into the original idea, or stashed, in the hopes that Karen's "try it again later" idea could happen.

    If the memory of the reaction is what's making you want to automatically discard something, wait a few days, at LEAST, before deciding. Perspective will help a lot.
    Bottom line, keep a copy of the original. If you go too far, you can backtrack.

    Deb, that is a fantastic way to change minds, with a clarification of perspective. Sometimes it can be hard for someone to actually visualize what you're talking about. It's too bad the image in our head cannot automatically be downloaded into someone else's head, but your idea is the next best thing.

    As far as "real life" is concerned, I have a storage locker containing my previous apartment. I now live at my parents' house, in the 10x15 room I grew up in. I can edit with ease, because I don't have a choice. There isn't enough room to keep everything I want to. (And there's only so many things I can toss onto the mattress in the locker.)

  17. Dawn, I do all my writing on the computer now -- I used to love the handwriting ritual, but I could never ever read my writing back later, so that kinda sucked. Totally relate to your "perspective" comment. It's essential.

    Love that you're writing and keeping it. You never know when you'll be ready to break out.


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