March 13th, 2007

Recycling—Good for the Planet, Less So for a Novel

While it is absolutely, 1000 percent true that I am way more normal now than I was in high school (or junior high. Or elementary school. Or college, to be perfectly frank), it is also 1000 percent true that I’m still the same person. Just normaler.

Examples? Why sure, I’ve got examples.

In high school I was a very enthusiastic recycler.

I say enthusiastic. In an effort to be more specific in all my writing, I should perhaps say “obsessive.”

To wit: it became almost physically painful to me to see all the soda cans kids threw away at lunch—at that point, my benighted high school didn’t have any recycle bins.

So I decided to do something about it.

Which was collecting all the cans I could, placing them in grocery bags that I brought from home (I have ever been a planner), stashing them as uprightly as I could in my locker (which faced the western sun—nothing smells better than hot, sweet, sticky soda cans, let me tell you), and then hauling them home, where they were too sticky to remove from the bags, so everything just went into the recycle bin all at once.

Yes, it was disgusting. Yes, I ruined many pairs of jeans with soda drips. Yes, it caused many an argument between my mother and me (like a teenage girl needs more reasons to argue with her mother, right?).

But it was the right thing to do. It was preserving the earth for my future children. It was making a statement, dammit. (I like to think my peculiar stiff-armed, bag-hauling, after-school walk had a little something to do with the recycle bins that now pepper the campus.)

But on to the writing portion of our blog.

After a fairly thorough rewrite of my juvenile fantasy novel (with minimal recycling of already existing manuscript), and a thorough dissection of same with davidbeall  , I am embarking on what I am confident will be the really truly absolutely last and definitely final Final Draft of my story (until my future editor swoops lovingly upon it to tear it apart so we can rebuild it even better, I mean).

I’ve done character studies. I’ve written historical vignettes. I’ve free-written to get ideas for plot direction. More recently, I’ve reviewed my studies, my vignettes, my freewriting, my scribbled notes, and gone through the MS scrawling more notes to myself about what to add and where to add it, what to change and how to change it (up till chapter 7, when everything comes to an abrupt halt. The changes I’m planning will change so much—so much that I can’t even tell right now how much—so I’m holding off on plotting too far in advance [restraint indeed for such a planner]).

The thing I love best about recycling is that it reduces waste--not just wasted materials, but more importantly, wasted effort. It’s like re-creating leftovers into a brand-new meal, like re-slanting an article to pitch to a new market, like tearing apart an unsuccessful skirt to make a quilt.

So it is difficult to admit to myself that recycling is likely not the best approach to take with my story. After all, if the original stuff—even my notes—had been so fabulous before, I wouldn’t be re-writing now, right?

The killer is that sometimes when I skim through my notes, I discover insights I don’t remember having—stuff that kickstarts the re-write in an even better direction than it had been heading in already. The evolution of these people, this world, this plot has been so drawn out that I can’t remember half the stops we made on the journey. This quasi-recycling isn't so much gathering cans before they’re discarded… as it is dumpster-diving, plucking gems out of the great bin of thoughts I’ve devoted to this project.

So my question to you: is all that brainstorming, all that drafting, wasted thought, wasted time, wasted effort—or not? Does every inch of work contribute to the ultimate power of your story—whether you use it or not? And what is the best way to get dried Dr. Pepper stains out of denim?



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