Monday, May 19, 2014

A PILE OF JUNK


Following on from the previous blogpost, with its ruminations about kitchen drawers and writers’ minds – no sooner had I posted it than I came across a quotation that I had harvested in case it came in handy one day but which I had forgotten.  That is often the way with writers’ minds.

Landscape (detail)
However, these gems do surface from time to time.  Especially if I remember to go through the computer files occasionally because that’s what they’re there for.  In the quotations folder was this comment by Thomas Edison: “To invent you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” And for a writer, the junk is always at hand. It used to be in the bottom drawer of the desk – the one where the failures languished, where the page ones of all the stories which petered out found themselves, where the brilliant idea for a novel was hurled and the drawer kicked shut behind it.  Nowadays there is probably a folder on the computer labelled “possibles” which contains scraps that didn’t seem possible at all but can’t be discarded permanently – just in case.

But there’s still hope.  Sometimes it comes unexpectedly. What was once a stumbling attempt at a short story can be re-worked and become a poem, and vice versa. The ugly duckling can be transformed into the beautiful swan it was meant to be. Maybe not so beautiful, but serviceable, acceptable, usable. And there are many opportunities to find homes of one sort or another for those false starts.

So it proved for what began as a character study loosely based on a long-gone maiden aunt. I found “Edith” in the possibles folder; three paragraphs of discarded, garbled junk. Coincidentally I became aware of an on-line flash-fiction magazine offering to publish very short stories – 250 words or less.  No money changes hands – and normally I bridle at the idea of writing for nothing. (Why should writers work for nothing, no one else does?)  But I dusted Edith off, cobbled a story around her, and sent her off. Amazingly, “Edith’s World” was published.

Heady stuff for a non-fiction writer like me.  But dabbling in an unfamiliar genre – especially a not-too-daunting field like flash-fiction – can be a worthwhile exercise for any writer. Since then I’ve turned two more fragments and a poem into 250s – so much for a pile of junk.

 

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