I write. Maybe you write too. We collect pages of scribbled notes, like madmen.
‘My notes!’ you exclaim, upon moving house and trying to find room in the truck. ‘Not my precious notes! They must stay! They’re my life! My dreams! My everything!’
So, over months and years they grow into precarious stacks and crumpled snowdrifts. Cutesy concepts and half-baked characters, by the hundreds. ‘I’ll get to that idea one day,’ we tell ourselves.
Natural selection’s at work here. These old ideas are the rejects; they never evolved into stories because they never grew legs. Maybe they just weren’t meant to be. That’s life.
Or, just as likely: you’ve matured as a writer. Those old ideas are beneath you; behind you. You’re ready to be an empty vessel again; to wonder anew. And maybe it’s time for them to go away.
The other day I stacked up all the pages I’ve scribbled down, over years and years. It looked like a paper city. It looked like half a library at wizarding school. Countless crappy ideas for stories, that wouldn’t ever truly work out.
And I destroyed them. Tore them up and binned them. And it felt good.
Darwin went full Genghis Khan on my old ideas, and left only the strongest possibilities. It was genocide. Now only the best stories live on, in a single box file. Afraid for their lives. And, if I get around to them and they don’t perform, then they’re gone too. And I’m a very happy writer.
Now, with more emptiness around – both in my house and my braincase – there’s room for new book ideas. It’s like clearing the garden of weeds, to make space for spuds and carrots. Good working plants, with real promise and purpose. I’m forced into new ideas, new avenues, with a more practised writing style. It’s a fresh challenge, and I highly recommend it.
It’s all tied up with a general move in my life towards minimalism. Not the extreme, everything-in-a-backpack kind; just having much less crap around. Removing choices, really, in a world that gives us far too many for true peace of mind. I mentioned it in Sky Queen a couple of times: the easiest choice is no choice at all. Throw shit out, remove a choice, spend your time on something more worthwhile. Or else spend a good chunk of our lives just… pointlessly deciding.
We’ve all got clothes we don’t wear any more. Books that just gather dust. DVDs, (now ancient artefacts in a world of online renting), of which a handful get any regular use. We all started some hobby and tried it once, and the apparatus still clogs up our lives because ‘one day, I’ll go back to that.’ But we won’t. It’s clutter, and it’s weighing us down. Tying us mentally to what we don’t do; to what we tried and failed at.
Not to mention the practical, financial side of it. We’re paying rent or a mortgage for excess storage space, for shit we don’t need. If all the crap we don’t use could fill a room, and we could just live around it, then we’re paying for one room too many. Maybe we’re paying the kind of money in rent that’d buy a holiday, or career training, or something to treat the family.
We need food, warmth, shelter, friendship. A steady stream of novel experiences. Studies are showing that anything more than that really doesn’t have any great impact on our quality of life. The more money people make, the more ways they’ll find to spend it.
The wage doesn’t matter. You could make a million, find ways to spend a million, and be poor again. People either live within, or beyond, their means. That’s being rich or poor.
Of course, you can chase and chase for a newer phone; a nicer house. A better car and a promotion. It’s all a grinning advert; a state-of-the-art non-stop treadmill. It’s an expensive gym membership when any old dirt track or heavy object will give us the same results. It’ll have us chasing it all until the day we die. But, if it makes people happy, go ahead. It’s a free world.
I’d never push anyone into zen practice, but at least look it up. It’s not so much a religion as a thought filter on the world. It’s the state of no-mind; a search for connection with the only things that really matter. And, best of all for writers, it teaches clarity, brevity, simplicity. An artful joy in ordinary things.
I’m not telling anyone to buy into a certain lifestyle, or to throw out all your stuff and live in a cave. I’m saying this: pile up all your stuff, and throw something away. And see if that simple act doesn’t help your writing, or give you a fresh take on life.
If the next purchase and the next aren’t doing anything for you, and all you really want is satisfaction and peace, then save your hard-earned money and do the opposite.
Instead of accruing stuff, clutter, shite, just… throw it away. Write a new kind of story. Evolve.