Before You Toss It in the Trash

September 25, 2013

As creative people, maybe the hardest choices we ever have to make revolve around “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” And we aren’t always going to make the right choice. Sometime the impulse to just smash or burn or shred or delete whatever we are working on overwhelms us and into the trash it goes. And with that gesture, the greatest idea we ever had or ever will have might go right up in flames or down the chute.  We’ll never know.

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Of course, once in a while someone else saves us from our insanity, as Stephen King’s wife Tabitha famously did when she fished “Carrie” out of the wastebasket. But mostly, we have to count on ourselves in these moments of frustration. 

I’ve lost a number of things to disorganization and dislocation through the years—the file I know I saved in My Documents only to find it just isn’t there; the copy of the manuscript that isn’t in the box that I stuck it in circa 1993. But I’ve probably lost more to misjudgment.  “Well this is awful, I won’t ever want to look at it again,” I tell myself in a cleaning frenzy, only to wake up three years later and think—that wasn’t such a bad idea, if I just turned it around and started in a different place—but it’s gone, and not to be simply recreated.

What to do?  We certainly can’t save everything (well maybe those of us who work exclusively on computers can take a stab at it—but although we might be able to save it, finding it and being able to read it in new software ten years later is another issue.) But perhaps we can learn to distrust our rage and frenzies a little.  If something is making us that angry, there might be something to it—perhaps it is our own frustration in not getting the Big Idea out right that is enraging us, not the badness of the Big Idea.  If we don’t have someone as helpful and talented in her own right as Tabitha King around to save us from ourselves, we may want to just take a moment and walk away before we throw the whole thing away.  And it might help to remind ourselves that just because we can’t work through it today doesn’t mean we might not be able to do it tomorrow—or next year, or in three years, or in 2033.