Writing Advice about Writing Garbage

Writing Advice from Jodi Picoult: 

“When you finally start to write something, do not let yourself stop…even when you are convinced it’s the worst garbage ever. This is the biggest caveat for beginning writers. Instead, force yourself to finish what you began, and then go back and edit it. If you keep scrapping your beginnings, however, you’ll never know if you can reach an end.” 

from https://www.jodipicoult.com/faqs.html  

Finish It!

There is something really satisfying about finishing something. It gives me great pleasure to see my work finished. 

Picoult is talking about writing. We can finish writing the manuscript. Yet many new writers don’t finish. How many people do you know that have one or more unfinished manuscripts lying around? I know more than a few, and if I’m being honest, I have a couple of short stories that are in unfinished states. Some are bound to happen. If you don’t finish any stories, then how are you going to get published? 

When I was in 7th grade I wrote 64 pages of a story. When I was in my 20s I wrote around 160 pages of a story and got stuck. Two years ago I finished a 99,000 word story. It is garbage, but it is my garbage and I’m proud of myself for finishing it. (It shall now sit in the Tupperware box I bought for it and admire that accomplishment until the end of time.)

I believe it was in Writing Excuses episode 13.49 in which they talk about endings. They brought up an excellent point. 

But what about the story ending?

Say you write a short story and get stuck halfway. Abandon that story. Start a new story. Get stuck partway through. Start a new story. Repeat a dozen times. 

You get really good at writing beginnings because you have practiced that skill. But now you can’t write an ending to save your life. If you had gone ahead and finished those dozen stories, you would have gotten practice at endings as well as beginnings and middles. 

It is hard to finish after you realize that your story is broken (aka garbage). It is so easy to look at the green grass on the other side of the fence. The next story is going to be perfect! You’ll surely get it right this time! That is that little dark muse sabotaging your work. Giving you false hope. Do not listen to this devious dark angel. 

The Dark Muse whispers lies in your ear.

Writing is hard work. Although we love writing, parts of it are drudgery. One of those is finishing a flawed story. 

Even more difficult is finishing the story, then figuring out what is wrong with it. Why is it garbage? NOW you are really improving your skills. Everyone, even the best authors sometimes have stories that get derailed. 

Even more difficult, is finishing the story, then figuring out what is wrong with it. Why is it garbage? NOW you are really improving your skills. Everyone, even the best authors sometimes have stories that get derailed. 

I always read Brandon Sanderson’s State of Sanderson letter at the end of each year. I believe it was last year he promised us a YA or middle-grade novel he said he couldn’t publish it though because something about it wasn’t quite right. He needed more time to rework the story. I love how honest he was about it. As a writer, that tells me I need to prepare for the same thing happening to me. 

I’m NOT a failure because the story doesn’t come out on paper as well as it was in my head! And neither are you!   

I’m NOT a failure because the story doesn’t come out on paper as well as it was in my head! And neither are you!    

So go ahead, finish that garbage story. 

No cheating though. “And then everybody died” is not really finishing it. That is just tacking a sentence onto a story. For real, reread what you have and write the ending that story needs to be a decent story. It will likely still be garbage, or you might find that the story is not as bad as you thought at the time. (Yes. Raise your hand if you’ve ever realized later that it was not as bad as you thought.) Perhaps, you have learned quite a bit since you wrote this story. You could open a new document and do a complete rewrite using your newly acquired skills, but this time you are going to finish it. Right?! 

Celebrate Garbage! 

When I was a kid I was frequently called a geek or nerd. It was meant to be hurtful, but I figured out that geeks and nerds were typically smart. I wanted more than anything to be considered smart so I wore the label of “geek” with pride. (This was long before it was cool to be a geek.) 

Garbage Bag Dress by Jeremy Scott
Garbage Bag Dress by Jeremy Scott

I say do the same with writing garbage. Find the good in it and wear it…but not literally. Please don’t wear garbage. …But write garbage! Keep writing garbage all the way until the end, until it is no longer garbage. Be proud of your garbage! It is a sign of progress, of learning. It is like children playing. Most people think they aren’t learning because it is playing. Educators know that this is where the most important learning happens. Writing garbage is the same way. You are getting words on the page, you stumble and scrape your knee, but you’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. Congratulations!

Image from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2939193/Fashion-designer-turns-everyday-rubbish-stylish-outfits.html
Image from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2939193/Fashion-designer-turns-everyday-rubbish-stylish-outfits.html 

Your Homework:

Pull out an old short story that remains unfinished. Finish it as best you can or do a complete rewrite…all the way to the end! See what happens! Play with the story. Change the POV. Change the plot or the character. Maybe you’ll discover what was broken. Imagine all that you might learn from this!

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