Deathless Prose


Deathless Prose

Whether we admit it or not, deep down and at 2:00 in the morning, we think that every piece of prose we write is a gem which must be preserved. That’s why writers keep copies of everything they’ve ever written (you know you do). I create an ‘extras’ file into which I deposit all the bits of writing which don’t fit this story but might have a place in some other piece of deathless prose. (Almost never happens.)

And honestly, why shouldn’t we? Don’t we write because we have something to say? Didn’t we start this journey for that reason? Why delete our attempts to do so?

Yes, of course, but I think we all need to get over ourselves. Keep all the files, by all means, but we need to lose the idea that every piece is worthy of publication.

Writing prose for the sake of

I know this sounds harsh but if we expect/assume that everything we write has to be published, it discourages writing.  You may avoid:

  • Learning a particular technique like foreshadowing or flashback
  • Working out a problem in the story
  • Doing backstory to understand the character better
  • Experimenting with different endings, openings, characters, etc.

Worst of all, assuming that everything you write should be published can morph into I should write only for publication. And then that really dampens your willingness to play or otherwise access your creativity.

Benefits of launching many expendable pieces[1]

‘Wasting’ time on pieces which aren’t in the ‘must publish’ file will help your writing in the long run because you can:

  • Stop work on something which has done what you needed it to
  • Let go a lovely piece of prose which slows the action or confuses the reader
  • Allow yourself the freedom to move on, not just because the piece isn’t working, but also maybe because you are bored with it or your interest has moved elsewhere.

You still need persistence

None of this should be interpreted as urging you to avoid working to perfect your pieces, or to trying to get your work published, or that you are not ready for prime time. But a more relaxed view on the need to publish gives you permission to throw in the towel if you need to.

[1] I know this is something the writer William Stafford said, but damned if I can find the actual quote, Sorry.