No matter when we’ve begun in our writing careers, we are bound to leave unfulfilled and unfinished works in our wake. Some of them we’ve discarded so long ago that they are nearly forgotten, unless they’ve been unearthed from an old notebook in your childhood bedroom or deep in the files on your computer. Either way, there they are, and now you have the urge to do something with them.
Before making any decisions about what to do with your previous work, read through each one. What parts did you enjoy? Which ones make you cringe? Is there anything that’s hard to understand? Take notes while reading, but don’t change anything yet. If you’re up for it, share with friends or fellow writers and see what they think. From there, you can do some of these four things:
Pick Up Where You Left Off
If you have an incomplete piece, what stopped you from writing it? Disinterest, difficulty writing, and distractions are all valid reasons to leave a story behind, but they can also be resolved.
- Start at a new point of the story, even if it’s just rewriting the whole thing from the beginning.
- Take note of where you grew disinterested. How can you make the story more refreshing?
- Free write or build plot and character design outside of the piece itself.
- Write down how you want the story to end and what it’ll take to get there. Then fill in the gaps of your story.
Destroy the Evidence
Maybe the story came from your middle school vampire obsession phase. Maybe you don’t want to be reminded about the time you wrote a poem about that cute stranger on the bus you were too afraid to talk to. Understandable. You can just move these works to the trash icon on your computer, or throw them in the recycling. Or have a little bit of fun.
- If it’s not already a hard copy, print it out. Make it into a hat. You are the captain now.
- Post it somewhere anonymously, like txt.fyi, before deleting it from your computer.
- Burn it, bury it, or turn it into a message in a bottle. Where you leave it last is up to you.
- Open up the word document and backspace the entire piece until you’re left with an empty page. Then start fresh.
- Cut up the pages into pieces. Use the scraps as confetti or make your own paper.
Reuse and Recycle
Ideas and prose don’t have to be lost in a piece that will never see the light of day. Even if it doesn’t work, you’re closer to a solution than you were before.
- Try an old idea in a new format. Would this fiction piece read better as a play? Can your prose be broken up into poetry?
- Use a notebook or file to keep all your bits and pieces of old writing in. Add to and draw from it when the timing is right.
- Mix and match your works. Try swapping characters and plots of stories, or play around with genres.
- Sort them—chronologically, alphabetically, by genre, or least favorite to favorite. Any exercise that can bring your old works to the front of your mind again will do.
It’s okay not to do anything with your old works. You can ignore every piece of advice this article gives you and start fresh without having second thoughts about your previous works. Just know that there is strength in learning from the past, and it’s nice to reflect on where you’ve started and how you’ve grown as a writer.
Meet the blogger:
EMILY POUPART is a senior at Hamline from Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin. She hopes to go into publishing after she graduates, and enjoys plants, reading, and being indoors.
How My Writer’s Journal Exposed the Toxic Mentality that Almost Made Me Stop Writing for Good [A Personal Testimonial]
I think of myself as a poet and a writer. Well, that’s what I thought pre-pandemic.
In March, when the world reeled back and sank to its knees, I couldn’t find that part of myself among the scattered pieces that had been my life. Suddenly, I couldn’t engage with creative writing. Not my own, and not anyone else’s. Words faded, and the comfort they had given me became dread. Doomscrolling through Facebook took precedent, other reading became unbearable.
Eventually I forced myself to write in freshly empty word documents, but it wasn’t satisfying. Nothing I wrote was worthy of any molding. I often ended up deleting everything. Why couldn’t I just sit down and write even one piece? I felt the phantom of ability skirting every attempt of recapture.
I questioned if I was meant to write. During my struggle, I watched people brag on Facebook about their brand-new pandemic manuscripts, all of them so thankful to finally have the time to give life to their words. I became envious and angry.
Finding poetry, it was like my voice was given purpose. Now, in speechlessness, I was bereft of that purpose. I became unmade, unsure of who I was, this new loss of a core element of character enough to cause distress; in just months I would be in school. How could I continue with my cw major? Could I still be a writer if I didn’t write?
Someone suggested journaling. At first, I discounted it. I had journaled before, but it hadn’t done anything for me. I would dive into it for a few days then leave the sullied notebook abandoned, with only the four journal entries to keep it company. Forcing myself to sit down and write about my “feelings” seemed disingenuous and pedestrian. But I hadn’t tried to keep a *writer’s journal* before. I thought critically about what that was, what it could be.
I decided that a writer’s journal’s definition was my own to create. There were no rules to follow except my own. I think Anita Trimbur’s “3 Things A Writer’s Journal Isn’t” sums it up perfectly; we can do whatever we want.
I decided to buy a fresh notebook and try journaling like a writer.
I asked myself what I wanted this journal to do. I needed a grounded idea that I could turn back to. On July 20th, on the second page, (It’s bad luck to write on the first page) I wrote:
“It is my hope that I can utilize this journal by filling it with scratch thoughts free from the ridged inflexibility of my computer. I’d really like to write more. So maybe a few days a week I’ll crack this baby open and write about whatever. Hopefully, those writings will lead to more writings.”
Over the past few months I wrote in my journal more than 30 times.
Some of those entries are a few sentences long, others more than three pages. What makes my writer’s journal different from a regular journal is the distinct “writer’s lens” I use. Of course, I made up this lens, but it helps anchor me.
I only write about things that are relevant to my writing. I found out that’s anything I want to write about.
I’ve been told many times that as a writer, you need to fall in love with the process, and not the final draft, but until my writing journal, I never felt that way. I realized, by writing through my fears and insecurities about my sudden inability to produce what I considered to be “creative writing”, that I hadn’t had my priorities in order.
When the pandemic hit full force, the bleeding edges of this harmful mentality became exposed. I don’t owe anyone, not even myself, “finished” work. Whatever I write, be it a deep psychological exploration of my developing imposter syndrome, or Taylor Swift lyrics, is valid.
I have drafted more than one piece of work from notes and scribbles, but the key difference between how I used to focus on my writing verses how I currently do, is that I finally understand that even the things that don’t “go anywhere” are still beneficial, simply for the time, expression, and creativity involved in the process.
If I had never started my writing journal or learned from it, I would be a different writer today. If you also use a writer’s journal, I’d love to hear what it’s taught you!
Meet the blogger:
JESSICA ETTA ZICK (they/she) is a poet, essayist, and libra. They hold an AFA in creative writing from Normandale Community College, and they are currently pursuing their BFA in creative writing from Hamline University. They live in Northfield, Minnesota, the town that always smells like cereal, with their partner and two cats, Huckleberry and Valerie.
Look, we all knew the end would come for us eventually, and with the way 2020 was going for us, the end might be coming sooner rather than later. Us monkeys just can’t go around banging sticks together for thousands of years without there being some kind of repercussion for our actions. Whether it be the fire tornados currently ravaging California, the global health pandemic keeping us locked inside, or just the failure of our own democracy to address the issues of the nation, it’s pretty clear that humanity (or at least the U.S.) doesn’t have much time left in this world. So what can we do as writers to help avert this coming disaster?
Hell if I know.
But if you’ve come looking for some ways to make your writing stick out in the coming apocalypse, I may have a few tips for you…
TIP #1: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE’S NEEDS AND TIME CONSTRAINTS
Remember looking up baking recipes for peanut butter cookies and suddenly stumbling across an old woman’s life story? Yeah, you shouldn’t do that. It’s the apocalypse. People don’t have time to read a full, fleshed-out story of you berating your life choices, even if that story is super interesting and contains valuable life lessons that you personally would have wished to learn sooner. Not only is such information totally unneeded, it wastes precious time for your potential readers, who may or may not be currently being chased by mutated, ravenous dogs. If they don’t have time to survive, they certainly won’t have time to read your writing.
But what a potential survivor will make time for is pertinent information needed for their general survival. Things like the nearest source of clean water, the nearest shelter, or how to secretly go around the nearest bandit camp would be some of the things that your readers would actively make time for, since it will help them in the long run. Stick to topics that help with survival, and you’re sure to have plenty of readers flocking to you with whatever form of currency we’ll be using in the end times.
TIP #2: FIND OTHER WAYS TO JOURNAL
Needless to say, paper and ink will most likely become a luxury in an apocalyptic setting. Even basic supplies like toilet paper will be fought over religiously, so the chances of you keeping a pen and paper on you for journaling purposes will be rather slim. So what should you do if you run out of paper?
My advice? Learn from the ancient Mesopotamian’s and start using clay tablets, if you can. They’re durable, easily erasable, and can be fire blasted to keep your writing permanently etched in clay. Keep them safe, and your writing will last longer than if you had just written it down on paper. But if clay is a bit hard to come by, you can always make yourself some charcoal pencils using a can and some wood. By peeling the bark off a young stick and putting that in a near-airtight container, you can make yourself some pencils that can write on nearly any surface, and can easily be rubbed off. Your words may not last as long as those written in clay, but if you preserve them right, your work could easily last 28.000 years, meaning some lucky historian will be able to eventually find your fanfics and put them on display for the world to see.
Speaking of historians…
TIP #3: HISTORY WILL HAVE THE LAST SAY, SO DO IT ANYWAY
It’s the apocalypse. There are no rules anymore. So who’s going to stop you from taking that one story you have that no one would seem to publish and passing it off as a huge work of art? Break into the Louvre and scatter your poetry amongst the displays. Write a horror story and claim to be Stephen King. Scrawl your name on the forehead of the Statue of Liberty, then raid the gift shop. Who’s going to stop you? Right now, it’s all about making your mark on history in any way that you can. With society collapsing, our best bet is to pull an Emily Dickinson and be little known in our own time, but be remembered for all eternity after our deaths. The best way for us to do that is to display our work among other great artists, and hope that historians find our writings some day and mistake us for an important person of literary merit. Just keep making content, and eventually at some point in time you will become famous. Even if that fame is founded upon the dumbass shenanigans you managed to get yourself into while the world was burning down.
That about wraps it up for what I have got to say. Hopefully you’ll look back some day and remember my advice while you desperately scrounge around for the last can of beans in an abandoned supermarket, desperately trying to eek out an existence as the world continues to spiral out of control.
Did anything that you have just read help out in any meaningful way? If not, you can always add to the discussion by leaving a comment down below. If you have anything else you’d like to add, please send me a smoke signal via the Minneapolis skyline. I promise I’ll signal you back in 3 – 6 business days, apocalypse notwithstanding.
Meet the blogger:
BLAKE BUTENHOFF is a thoroughly odd individual. He is supposedly a Senior of Hamline University’s Undergraduate Creative Writing Program, but no one knows quite exactly how he got into such a position. He enjoys strange works of fiction, hiding out in the quiet corners of rooms, and ketchup on his macaroni.
2020, to put it lightly, was an awful year for most people. Our ways of living have been radically changed. COVID has been a constant worry and the presidential election caused stress for many. Although much in the immediate future is uncertain, we all must find different ways of coping. I usually read as a way of an escape. The feeling of escapism is something many of us are seeking again at the start of 2021. I found the following literature especially compelling because of how they relate to our contemporary moment. These make for great stories and insightful readings. If anyone is looking for a good read during these first few months of the new year, I highly recommend these works.
A post-apocalyptic story of a father and son traveling through a ruined America. The story imagines a future where all hope has been lost. It depicts the worst and best traits of mankind. With growing fears of where this country will go in the years after the 2020 election, along with COVID-19 being a consistent threat, the feelings of hopelessness in this novel can relate to our contemporary moment. Admittedly, that is terrifying. However, that makes this even more compelling. I can see pieces of the real world in this novel and it is so interesting. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who is a fan of post-apocalyptic stories. Warning: The novel does contain dark graphic descriptions and sensitive topics such as suicide.
This collection of poems by the award-winning writer depict a dark, gothic reality of the exploitation of marginalized people in the U.S. Many poems in this collection touch on topics such as white supremacy and being a queer person of color. With political policies and societal resentment set to clash for years after the 2020 election, it is important and intriguing to look through the eyes of someone who has already felt this oppression. I find Reed’s use of dark imagery and childhood references immersive. He depicts his disgust towards the historical/current treatment of people of color. This historical disgust can be felt by followers and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, especially after the recent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. I highly recommend this collection to readers and poets who support the movement, and to anyone who is interested in the subject matter.
This Pulitzer Prize-winning fictional story follows the journey of Elwood Curtis, a Black teenager growing up in Tallahassee in the 1960s. The story follows Curtis being sent to Nickel Academy, a fictional juvenile reformatory based on the controversial real-life Dozier School which operated in the state of Florida for 111 years. Curtis and other characters in the story face horrors that parallel the true atrocities that children who attended Dozier endured. The details and images depicted in this novel filled me with much discomfort, especially when you consider the fact that similar atrocities are happening still to this day. While human trafficking has become a larger issue in society, it is scary how the abuse and torture of Curtis and the other characters in Whitehead’s novel are a reminder of this problem. Although it is not outright kidnapping and trafficking per say, the story of the Nickel Boys taken away from their homes to a reform school where they are subjected to racially-motivated abuse and torture with the potential for being murdered, is a horrible parallel of the reality we live in. The elements of horror in this novel are extremely compelling. The building of tension and the development of Curtis’s character throughout the story were also well done.
I recommend these three titles, not just because I find their stories compelling (and they are!), but also because these stories remind us of the moment we live in. Even though some are based on events of both the past and possible futures, the themes of abuse, neglect, discrimination, and loss of hope are all too familiar still today. The more we read, the more realize that these topics in our society are not fiction. I hope that readers can see the similarities between these literary works and our realities like I have. I feel that these three books, and others like them, could bring more awareness to any of these issues and inspire us to address them. Instead of giving up hope, let’s look to a better future in 2021 and beyond. As Terry Pratchett said, “There’s always a story. It’s all stories, really. The sun coming up every day is a story. Everything’s got a story in it. Change the story, change the world.”
Meet the blogger:
JOE JOYCE is a sophomore at Hamline University. He is a creative writing major and English minor. His concentrations are in fiction and poetry. He hopes to find work as a writer after graduating. In his free time, Joe likes to swim, play guitar and make audiobooks.
Covid have you in hibernation? While avoiding social interaction is essential to preventing Covid transmission, it’s also very isolating. Most of us feel drained emotionally, mentally, and creatively. Often writing prompts help me get pen back to paper after hitting a wall. Consider trying one of the following 10 writing prompts and challenge yourself to create a brief (25-500 word) flash fiction piece. Focus on setting (any place but the inside of our house, please!) by building a new space. What does it smell like, feel like, sound like?
Take us there and transport your reader because we all need to escape a bit right now.
- Write a story about a magical piece of furniture. This item creates a portal, but how? Where does it take us? What is a major problem and why does it hurt those your character loves?
- Take a trip. Describe the voyage and the arrival, but don’t name the destination. What’s the problem that erupts at your arrival? How will you fix it?
- Create a character that’s been reincarnated as a wild animal. What kind of animal? How does the character feel about it? What can/can’t be done? Who do they meet and why is there a problem?
- There’s music playing just beyond a hill, follow the sound and tell us why it’s terrifying. How can you make it stop and what will be the result?
- Create an underground world, who are the inhabitants and why are they so happy? What happens when people from the surface discover their weakness and invade the underground?
- Imagine a cruise ship full of non-human characters, where are they going and what are they leaving behind? Why is everyone dancing and/or singing constantly?
- Someone is giving chase through empty city streets. There’s an unknown substance everywhere. What happened and who’s after them? What happens when they get caught and find out they are the same person?
- A large body of water rests in the way. How did it get there and what’s on the other side? There’s aggressive animals in the water- what are they and why are they so angry?
- Thousands of fans gather before your character, why are they watching and how are things about to go horribly wrong? What happens when your character discovers everything they’ve been told is a lie?
- Create a new political system. Please. Maybe we can make it nonfiction some day.
Tip: If you need more inspiration- check out this ThinkWritten article for helpful tips and techniques to shake the writers block.
If you have any additional inspiring, odd, quirky, or compelling prompt ideas- please share them with us in the comments below.
Meet the blogger:
SAMANTHA WICKS is an Air Force Veteran and maintenance foreman. She enjoys murder mysteries and any apocalyptic tale that distracts from our own. Sam’s claimed residence in Texas, California, North Carolina and South Korea, but takes pride in calling Minnesota home.