Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I am, and always have been, something of a hoarder, particularly when it comes to stories. I have notebooks and folders and flash drives filled with vague scribblings and half-finished tales: some of the stories even less finished than that, comprising of little more than a couple of pages of frantic typing and less-than-sparkling prose.

Now and again, particularly when I find myself and the muse at loggerheads, I’ll go back to these unfinished tales and try to pick up the threads in an attempt to kick start my own imagination. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t (which leads me to believe that some of these stories simply don’t deserve to see the light of day).

The strangest thing though, is that they are, in some way, a chronicle of my current writing. The earliest of these scraps dates from about three years ago when I started, rather tentatively, to write again and it’s a sometimes fascinating – more often excruciating – thing to look through old stories and try to chart the path that lead from there to here (where ever here is, exactly).

Jane Yolen once spoke of the ‘writing muscle’ and how it needs to be exercised every day in order to stave off atrophy. Not every race needs to be a marathon, however, or every athletic pursuit lead to a gold medal – sometimes even the smallest piece of writing can help to stimulate the creative impulse and, of course, just because a character, concept, description or line of dialogue doesn’t work in one story does not mean that it cannot work in another. Robert E. Howard famously rewrote one of his unpublished King Kull tales (By This Axe I Rule) into the story that became The Phoenix On The Sword, the first Conan tale, for instance.

I suppose the whole point of this is that nothing is ever wasted or wasteful when it comes to the process of writing and that regular exercise of that mythical writing muscle can only make it stronger. Writing is a solitary pursuit, but one of the advantages of this is that no line, story or novel need necessarily see the light of day before its time.

Ah, so all those wasted hours weren't wasted after all.


  1. Hi James,

    Your posts fills me with optimism. I'm in the same boat. Now I've finished my lit course I'm trying to assemble all these notes and files which are in a random mess all over my hard drive and flash disks. I used to have bits of paper all over the place too but I cut that out and started putting thoughts down in notepad files and saving them. All the notes from the past I shoved in a box file; I like to term it thought box so I'll have to review them at some point. Two programs you might find helpful which I found very useful academically - I'm also starting to apply this to my own creative writing - are XMind and PersonalBrain. Both are mindmapping progs I've put to different uses and are freely available as open source software on the net :)