Monday, July 19, 2010

THE BOTTOM DRAWER

There is a bottom drawer in every writer's life. It might be a box. Or a suitcase. Or a file, or a pile of envelopes, or a plastic bag under the bed. It can be a folder in the computer labelled "drafts" or "possible pieces". It can even be a corner of the mind, a dusty place where half-finished fragments of discarded stories, poems and articles have been abandoned but not quite forgotten. And sometimes, when all the assignments have been completed, there is nothing in the "to do" basket, and it's still only two o'clock in the afternoon, the temptation is to trawl through the bottom drawer to see if there is anything there with possibilities.

There is a reason that all those fragments are in there. There is a reason for the abandonment. I have just opened my bottom drawer and found that a terrible fate has overtaken the contents while they languished there. Nearly everything has grown old-fashioned: the language, the style, the content, the themes, even the names of characters. There are two half-finished novels and both, after all that effort, are well-crafted but pedestrian narratives for which I couldn't see a future. Well-crafted is not nearly good enough. There must also be life and movement and suspense of one kind or another.

The contents of the drawer all petered out because they wandered into a dead-end alley, or had no purpose or point, or seemed too boring to complete, or the task was too intimidating. But there is a difference between the contents of the bottom drawer and the writing that is undertaken, struggled through, revised, polished, and delivered to a client or market for which it is designed. The difference is perseverance. The bottom drawer is full of fragments because nobody, including me, cared whether they were finished or not. It was too easy to give up.

I opened the drawer this afternoon because I have just read Fiona Kidman's "Beside the Dark Pool" in which she lists some rules for writers, including the following: "Learn to finish things. When you rush from one project to another thinking the next will be better, you never find out how good the one you're working on really is." Yes!

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