As a rule, with me an unfinished thing is a thing that might as well be rubbed out. It’s better, if there’s something good in it that I might make use of elsewhere, to leave it at the back of my mind than on paper in a drawer. If I leave it in a drawer it remains the same thing but if it’s in the memory it becomes transformed into something else.
This quote hit home when reading an interview with Eliot by Donald Hall of The Paris Review (Spring-Summer 1951). Last month, after much contemplation, I finally recycled piles and piles of paper containing my creative writing and the feedback received. About 10 years worth of projects, short stories undergoing rewrites, beginnings of a few novels, outlines, notes and commentary… they no longer felt a part of me. I did not recognise my voice while rereading them. Instead, I realised they honed my skills and helped me discover my interests as well as my strengths and weaknesses. My strongest worry was to rid myself of some gem of a phrase, a description or a metaphor, or more macroscopically, a character or theme I really like, only to never be able to remember it. Yet these most precious words are the ones I never forget because they came from the heart. Even now, writing this little self-reflection, I remember the darlings I do not want to kill. And as Eliot says, I am confident they will transform into something else and then be used appropriately where they belong.
And then this other quote by Eliot that pretty much sums up my writing capability in a day as well, when I am focused on a writing project:
I found that three hours a day is about all I can do of actual composing. I could do polishing perhaps later. I sometimes found at first that I wanted to go on longer, but when I looked at the stuff the next day, what I’d done after the three hours were up was never satisfactory. It’s much better to stop and think about something else quite different.
As an afterthought, I would say it feels liberating to have gotten rid of the material that bogged me down. Scary, but definitely cleansing. I look at that phase as a self-study in creative writing; experimenting in styles, genres and narrative technique. Finding my voice and, of course, exploiting my strengths and continue working on my weaknesses. I no longer think of any of my previous characters or stories. My mind is completely open for something new. Daunting… and exciting.