It’s probably good to have a moment when everything turns inside out on a project, when you have to start over.
I didn’t say fun—I said good.
Before I went nearly paperless, I trashed forests-full of material. One project in particular comes to mind: a novel. I had written lots of successful things before this—books, essays, short stories—but a full length fiction project was a different animal. Also, this story, so close to the bone, was hard to pin down. I was also working with an editor then, pages flying back and forth, and whose red slashing relegated even more volume to the trash bin.
Draft after draft, characters were eliminated, plot points erased, back story dumped, everything pared to its essence . . . So much paper hit my wastebasket that I undertook in a moment of conscience to plant a grove of trees in compensation for my consumption. As an extra amends, I had them planted them in Anatolia, where the story is set, and in my father’s name, which pleased him.
And still I wrote and rewrote—my children growing up, my parents growing older, and this story tried over and over again, each time a little closer, but still not there.
Once, in answer to the simple question “How was your day?” I fanned whole chapters-turned-red across the kitchen table, which shocked my school-aged sons. I wasn’t sentimental about it—it wasn’t blood spilled; just red ink; just business. I wanted to lend sympathy to their own writing struggles, but more to the point, I wanted to show them that there are no short cuts to a well crafted work, much as we might wish otherwise.
I finished that book, that story captured at last with every detail in place, and I no longer waste paper.
But I keep a postcard of those trees planted an ocean away as a reminder, as if I could forget, that good writing is a lot of work. And some things—whether as a metaphor or actual chain saw whining—might even take a forest.
Photo Credits: ashcan – Joel Dietle, sxc; logging – Paivi Tittanen, sxc