Ye Olde Drawer Novels (Repost)

I read this fantastic article the other day about drawer novels. If you have a minute to spare, definitely go read it – and make sure you check out the comments, where people have to give a 25 word (or less) description of a novel they’ve drawered. There are some hilarious ones there – it’ll make you feel better about your own, I promise 😉

I have two questions today: Firstly, what are drawer novels? And secondly, how do you know you have one?

In other words, when and how can you tell that it’s time to give up on a story, shelve it, and move on?

The term ‘drawer novel’ comes from the idea that we all have novels that are (or should be) shoved in a drawer, never to see the light of day again. They’re often our first attempts at writing, although not always, and they’re often tragically melodramatic, full of plots holes and clichés and Bad Ideas that lulled us into a false sense of security.

That’s what a drawer novel is; but how do you know you have one?

This is a tricky question for me, because I love editing. I can tinker pretty endlessly with a story, which has two implications here: 1) I run the risk of never actually ceasing the editing, and so I never end up getting the necessary time away from the story to develop distance, which is requisite to being able to judge the story’s merit; and 2) I find it hard to write off any idea, because I know that with sufficient tweaking (read: editing ;)), anything can work. 

That said, there are a handful of stories that I have that have ended up in the folder on my computer I’ve affectionately called “The Dumping Ground”. Interestingly enough, this includes practically everything I ever wrote for the creative writing classes I took at university o.O

Mostly, they’re short stories. Stories that are melodramatic, stories that too clearly were addressing the assessment criteria, stories with no point or that are contrived; a novel that was a teenage-angst attempt at recording all the unfair things that happened in my last few years of high school (shudder); a novel where the MC turned into someone I hated. Although that one I’m tempted to pull out and tweak. Anything with editing, right? O:) hehe.

But how did I know these stories were dumpers, not keepers? One word: time. Only time will give you the distance you need in order to be able to judge your stories objectively. But then again, time will only work with another word: practice. If you don’t practice, if you aren’t getting out there and learning what makes a good story, you can leave a dud as long as you like and you still won’t know it’s a dud when you come back to it. You have to have progressed, you see.

Which is where the final word(s) comes in: a second opinion. You can practice, you can improve, and you can return to your work after time – but a second opinion never hurts, especially from someone you trust to be objective but constructive.

So, tell me. How many drawer stories do you have? Is anyone brave enough to share what one of their drawer stories is about?

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