“Write for whatever holy thing you believe in, not for your poetry workshop fellows. And dare once in a while to throw a poem away. The main thing is to know that your craving to write is the big thing and will continue, and is more valuable than the finished poem. I do this myself, plenty.”
The quote is from the poet Mary Oliver, and she’s daring writers to throw things away. I know, I know. I can hear you saying it’s easier to throw a poem away because it’s short. But part of a novel or — Gasp! — the whole thing?
It’s been done, you know. I’ve done it and I know people who’ve done it.
What a liberating experience. I burned mine, feeding it page by page into a fireplace, all the time cackling like a Halloween witch.
Are you burdened with a story? Will it just not cooperate? Has it been going on forever? Are you sick of it? Throw it away.
Here’s the thing — the good stuff will come back. The core of the story, the image that haunted you and stood out like a silver dollar in the sludge of the text, the character who said one clever thing that made you want to know what else she would say.
It comes back. But for the moment, you’re free. It’s gone. It’s toast. Done for. Eighty-sixed. Vanquished. Bye-bye forever.
Now you can do what Mary Oliver suggests — indulge your craving to write. Not your duty. Not your obligation. Not your task. But your craving. The urge, the yen, the longing, the passion.
That thing that made you want to be a writer in the first place. Remember that?
Ron Koertge is the author of more than a dozen books, most of them novels for young adults. These include Margaux With An X, Stoner & Spaz, and The Brimstone Journals as well as Shakespeare Bats Clean-Up and the sequel Shakespeare Makes the Play-Offs. Strays was awarded the Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of the Year and chosen as a Best Book for Young Adults by the American Library Association.