people do their spring cleaning in the springtime. But I’m hard-pressed
to name anyone who’d call me “normal!”
I woke up the other night (2:47
a.m., to be precise), and despite the usual “go back to sleep” tricks
(reciting Psalm 23 and the Lord’s Prayer, picturing a clean blackboard,
counting imaginary “floaters” stuck to my inner eyelids), I just
couldn’t find my way back to Slumberland.
Usually, this happens on nights
when I’ve turned off the computer too soon, and the story element I’d
been weaving into my WIP has decided it is more
important than sleep.
But this wasn’t the case on that
So I got up. Made myself a
snack. Sipped some lemonade. Turned on the Home Improvement channel and
shook my head as some poor, clumsy woman made a mess of her kitchen
counter. But not even watching her dent a $300 faucet and drop a whole
box of pricey handmade tiles inspired drowsiness. And it didn’t give me
the “Get to the keyboard and add this to your story
or your head will explode!” feeling, either.
Wasting time has always been a
pet peeve. So, yawning, I went into my office . . .
. . . and started going through
Not the drawer where I keep
business stuff, or the one where I store “this guy might make a good
hero” photos, but the
files. Two drawers filled with (literally) hundreds
of story ideas at various stages of development.
First, I emptied both drawers,
leaving only a few paperclips and some spent staples in the bottom.
Then, one by one, I looked at every folder, separating stories I could
pitch from those that had no hope of selling. Ever. The Never-evers
ended up in the trash can, and the rest lay all around me on the floor.
So there I sat, cross-legged on
my alphabet rug, sorting through every file. After looking through all
of those, a whole lot more ended up in the garbage.
Now I was left with twenty-one
stories, which, after careful perusal, were put into three stacks:
“Probably,” “Could Be,” and “Not Sure.” After giving the Not Sures one
last chance to pique my interest, they joined their brothers in the
Those in the “Probably” and
“Could Be” stacks got a final read, leaving me with just eight folders,
which I alphabetized and returned to the cabinet. And for the first
time in well over a decade, I had to use those weird little “sliding
things” that keep folders upright in nearly-empty file drawers.
Imagine that. Eight story
possibilities culled from the hundreds. Talk about a cleansing!
I’ve heard my writer friends say
they can’t get rid of anything. They gripe about stacks of Writer’s
Digest that date back to the ’70s, and how-to-write books
purchased while Reagan was still president. Photos taken in places
where they’d like to “set” a book teeter in piles beside more
piles of magazine tear-outs depicting potential character types.
I’m not normal enough to make
those piles, let alone live with them! For an abnormal writer like me,
things hafta be organized. Because if they aren't, I’ll fritter away
hours’ worth of precious minutes trying to fix this and do that. Chaos
of the physical
kind—even a small amount of it—puts me
into a never-ending tailspin. To concentrate on a plotline or a
character’s motive, I’ve gotta see and feel (and believe) that all my
ducks are in a row, all my Ts are crossed, all my Is dotted.
. . . each manuscript I’d pitched into oblivion, disproved
the “out of sight, out of mind” adage. I think of them often: Could a
few have been rewritten? (If so, which?) Could I
weave elements of one novel into the plotline of another? Might “this”
character perform better in “that” story?
Good thing I dumped real
trash into the gigantic black bag before dragging it to the curb, huh!
Knowing they’re as gone as last year’s Christmas fruitcake opened my
mind in a brand-new way.
As an avid gardener, I know that
when a plant malingers, harsh pruning is in order. Lopping off the dead
stuff is the only way to get back to healthy green chutes and big
fragrant blooms I once enjoyed.
I’m sure you see where I’m going
with this. Cutting those dead, never-could-sell stories from my files
made room for stronger ideas that will bear publishable fruit.
My little exercise cost me
nearly five hours, three broken fingernails (four, if you count my
thumb), a scraped toe, and way too many paper cuts to count.
The minute those little sliding
things start moving closer to the back of that drawer, I’ll do it
The other drawer? I rather like
the metallic thunk it makes when I open and close
it, so it’s gonna stay empty.
Because I’m, y’know, good old