Chances are, you have dozens of unfinished writing projects cluttering up your drawers or your hard drive. Each of them held the promise of being the Next Big Thing and occupied your every waking thought while you worked on them… Until you stopped. Now they’re gathering dust, forgotten and unloved.
Does that mean you’re less of a writer?
Fragments can actually be invaluable to your writing life.
I’ve started more projects than I can even count. That includes novels, short stories, and even just first paragraphs for who-knows-what. They’re in multiple notebooks (which are themselves unfinished) and dotted across my hard drive.
But I’d never trash any of them. Mostly because I know that not every idea will become a finished story. It doesn’t need to. Some ideas can be expressed in a paragraph, and others need a 300,000-word trilogy to fully do justice to the story.
And just because you haven’t finished it this time around doesn’t mean you won’t get to use the idea later.
It’s totally okay to spend 2000 words on a story and bail on it. You’ll either come back to it later with fresh eyes and finish it off, or you’ll abandon it in favour of something you will finish. Why waste words on a story that doesn’t excite you when you could be writing something that does?
So how do you organise your unfinished writing projects?
You don’t want to outright trash anything because you never know when you might need it again. So where do you keep everything?
1. Get a notebook
I know, this is my default advice for everything, but that’s because it works! Keep one specifically for fragments.
Use a new page for each exercise, so you don’t get muddled up. Then, whenever you want to scribble down an idea, respond to a writing prompt, do an exercise, or whatever it might be, put them in here.
When you feel ‘blocked’ you can flick back through and see if any of the fragments take your fancy. You can continue them, rework them, or bolt them together until you become ‘unblocked’ on your main project.
Use Evernote as a digital notebook
I highly recommend Evernote for writers anyway. I have it on my phone, so if I have an idea while I’m out and about, I can pop it into a note, and then it syncs with my desktop version, so it’s right there waiting for me when I next sit down at a computer.
But it’s good practice to keep a notebook specifically for fragments. Use tags to make it easier to find content – maybe tag fragments according to genre, characters, time period etc.
The digital notebook becomes a storehouse of unfinished writing projects. And it also becomes a source of ideas that you can revisit in future. Don’t forget, not all stories need to be finished right now.
2. Reuse fragments
We sometimes like to think of our stories as self-contained units or special snowflakes, but truth be told, most stories are a Frankenstein’s Monster of bits and pieces that are cobbled together in the unconscious mind and spat out at a relevant juncture.
Why shouldn’t we have more of a hand in the process?
If you write a killer scene that won’t work if it’s expanded into a story, but is an amazing fit for a novel you’re working on? Just use it! Maybe you invent a character during a writing exercise and a few months later you need a character to do something specific in a novel. See if you’ve already done the work elsewhere!
The central premise of ‘A Christmas Ghost Story in the West’ (available in my Harbingers collection which you can grab here) was originally a short story called ‘The Dead Carry Lanterns’. Try as I might, I could not make it work. So I abandoned it.
It was only much later when I wanted to write a ghost story for my bounty hunter that I remembered the old fragment. And it fitted perfectly into its new home.
Fragments can make great prologues and scenes in novels. They’re also good for helping you to explore characters or do some world building.
3. Build an exercise routine
Just like you should warm up before a proper workout, it’s a good idea to do writing exercises on a regular basis. Think of it as keeping your creative muscles primed for action!
Try setting yourself a target to write for eight minutes a day, or to produce 500 words a day.
I highly recommend Monica Leonelle’s The 8-Minute Writing Habit for the former. To produce the words;
- Use photo prompts.
- Listen to conversations on the way to work, and use snippets to spark ideas.
- Clip interesting news headlines.
You can do your eight minutes/500 words on the same project, or do something different every day. It’s entirely up to you.
Unfinished writing projects don’t equal failure.
A fragment is just as valuable as a full story. It has the potential to be the thing you need at the right moment. So make sure you save them somewhere and revisit them to see if you can reuse them in your current work.
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