Out of the Closet, Into the Fire:
How I Burned My Old Darlings and Got Back to Writing Fiction
Joyce Barton (Guest Blog Post)
I was coming off of a year of transcription and research for a nonfiction project and feeling ready to get back into fiction, but I was stuck. It had been so long since I’d used that muscle, could I even write fiction anymore?
Write something new? What about my orphans, my piles and files of decades-old material—leave no story behind, I’d promised my characters, and myself.
Here’s how I burned through my indecision (aka resistance) by feeding some old friends to the fire.
State Your Mission
I’m a writer, right? I write things down. So it seemed natural to define, in writing, what I wanted and why, when this would happen, how I’d get there, and commit to it—a good old-fashioned Mission Statement. Here’s my ‘Mission Bonfire’:
Mission: Go through old files of stories and decide which will become new writing projects and which will be let go.
Reason/Why Am I Doing This? To move forward, to get unstuck.
Deadline: Thursday, March 15, 2018
-Take old stories out of closets and drawers and place them in one pile.
-Sort the pile into a ‘fix’ pile and a ‘fire’ pile. Sort quickly, with an eye for ‘project’, not nostalgia.
-Delete all e-files (on Word, Scrivener, Drop Box) that correspond to fire pile.
-Have a ritual for the fire pile (include champagne toast)
-Give special attention to the ‘fix’ pile for making the cut. Place each in a new project file, store out in the open where I can acknowledge them, access them.
Trust the Process
‘Sort quickly, with an eye for ‘project’, not nostalgia’? Not only did I get nostalgic, I drove myself to a stomach ache on Day One! But I stuck with it, and after two weeks of sorting my ‘fix’ and ‘fire’ piles, some happy ‘finds’: I met the writer I once was (raw, ‘under-fictionalized’) and the writer I’ve become (more control, intent; a better storyteller). I saw how storing my work played into my worries about ‘lack’ (‘I might need this someday’). By addressing each piece and letting go of those I no longer needed, I let go of lack, too—and began to have faith in the abundance of ideas.
Release the ‘Fire’ Pile
Bonfire Day? I forgot that though I love a good fire, I’m afraid of getting burned. So I tore most my pile into bits (also gratifying) and recycled it; the remaining I ceremoniously (and gingerly) dropped into our rusty fire pit, sprinkled with a bit of sage, then read aloud three writerly quotes, including:
“No, the thing is, we all love storytelling, and as a writer you get to tell stories all the time.”
–Joyce Carol Oates
Pop the champagne! Back to telling stories, all the time.
Rebirth the ‘Fix’ Pile
I now have four stories out to market and 22 in various stages of rewrite; enough to keep me in the flow of fiction writing. I’m officially ‘unstuck’.
What’s in your closet? Maybe enough darlings to rekindle your writing.
Joyce Barton is swapping out long-form nonfiction for short-form (flash fiction, essay) this summer. Her work has appeared in The Legendary, Every Day Fiction, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and other publications. Her latest flash, Weeds, will be published this summer in Rum Punch Press.