Friday, January 14, 2011

On Scraps and Ambivalence, Itches and Perseverance

If you are struggling with what you
should be writing, look at your scraps.
Encoded there are the themes and subjects you
should be grappling with as a writer. --Betsy Lerner

I've been doing just such a thing this past week--sorting through my scraps. And nearly drowning in them, actually.

The thing is, my scraps have been accumulating for years. Clippings here, manila folders there, boxes of articles torn from magazines waiting to be revisited. But with the advent of a new year, one in which I plan to finally embark on my next MG historical fiction, I decided it was time to put on wading boots, jump in, and pull all the scraps together in some kind of order. After all, the sea of research goes on forever, but the time comes to put a hold on research and begin to write. I just need to know I can find what I'm looking for when the thought hits me.

It's been a long week, but I now have six new notebooks of compiled scraps to show for my efforts:
  • On Plot and Storytelling
  • Character Sketches and Journaling
  • Photo File with Visuals, Idea Triggers, and Character Suggestions
  • Local History of Targeted Era
  • Biographies and Human Interest, Inspirational Stories of Overcoming Adversity
  • Odds and Ends: Names, Motives, Descriptions, Family Trees
Not only that, but the week culminated in a one-sentence story summary, a developing story arc, and determination to get something down on that first page. After all, the first page--so blank and empty--is often our biggest obstacle.

"The ambivalent writer," Betsy Lerner notes in her classic book on writing, The Forest for the Trees, "can't hear himself think, can't commit to a single vision, can't stop wondering if six other directions aren't the right ones to take. The ambivalent writer confuses procrastination with research. He can't hear through the static to find the one true voice."

She also says, "(But) If the voices keep calling, if the itch remains, no matter how punishing the work or inhospitable the world, then you must persevere."

Sorting through my scraps has validated some of my loves: history, real people's inspiring stories, stories of courage and hope, children's fiction, the writing process itself. It has helped provide vision, direction, and voice for my newest work--and hopefully has also silenced those pesky troublemakers, ambivalence and procrastination. But the best news of the week? The itch to jump in and get going is stronger than ever. And only perseverance will scratch that kind of itch.

The Challenge is on.

What do your scraps reveal about your writing?


  1. Wow! Congrats on compiling all the scraps! Sounds like a lot of work

  2. You did some major organizing! I don't go back to my scraps very often--I start new and jump in!

  3. My scraps reveal that I really like Sci/Fi and Fantasy. ;)

    I'm glad your ready to jump in and write! That is always the best time.

  4. My scraps tell me I'm all over the place;-)

  5. My scraps don't reveal much. I just jump headlong into a new WIP. have an award at my blog.

  6. Hello - I came by from Rachna's blog. :)

    I am so impressed by the way you have organised your scraps! I did something similar recently, actually, although I still have a scrap drawer where they tend to end up until I sort them into some sort of order. What do they say about me? That I always should have a notebook handy!

  7. Thanks to all for stopping by--scraps or no scraps, it's fun to see the different ways we approach our writing :-) And thanks, Rachna, for the award. What a fun surprise...!

  8. How fun--your notebooks/scrapbooks sound like a sort of diary--nice job compiling them! I don't go back very often, but I do leave things unfinished sometimes.


  9. BIG congratulations on getting all of that organized! I'm so glad it was helpful :)

  10. Ahh! I AM the ambivalent writer!
    My scraps just float through my head. I have got to pin them DOWN! :)
    Sounds like your scrap-sorting has been fun *and* productive!