The Gambler was Right

The gambler was right, at least the gambler in the song performed by Kenny Rogers. The advice the gambler gives is to know when to hold your cards, and know when to “fold ‘em.” That is good advice in many areas, but particularly for a writer.

Easier said than accomplished. The scenario: you have an idea for a novel. You are excited about your concept and the opening lines have been circulating in your head for a few days. You’ve begun to develop your characters and have a plot more of less in mind. You sit down at your computer, or take your special pen in hand, and begin writing.

A paragraph becomes a page, becomes an entire chapter–maybe several. You prepare to do the real literary drudge work: developing your plot points, researching, setting up a chronological document to keep track of events, supplying backstory where needed, fleshing out characters. That may be the point at which you realize you’re in foreign territory. You’ve ventured into an area that isn’t your genre, doesn’t illustrate your strength as a writer, and probably won’t result in either satisfaction or success.

That’s the stage I hit recently with a novel I’d planned for several months. Feeling confident, I banged out the prologue and first, long chapter with ease. Then, some real-life obligations demanded my time, and I didn’t get back to my “great idea” for several weeks. When I did, I realized I ‘d ventured far outside my area of expertise and knowledge. If I ever was able to develop the plot, the finished product would probably be amateurish at best.

I kept the first page and a half and deleted the rest. Well, okay, I confess; I couldn’t just dump my words like yesterdays coffee grounds, so I made a copy of the original document, then deleted. But, I know the original will never see the light of day, anymore than the pilled sweater I keep for sentimental reasons will ever drape my shoulders again.

What I am left with is a satisfactory prologue and a lead-in to the novel I always intended. I have a long way to go, but at least I am not headed in the wrong direction.

For many writers, our words are possessions that we are reluctant to discard. They represent our likes, dislikes, values, desires, fears, and aspirations. And, the more we amass in a single project, the harder it is to let go.

Although experimentation can contributes to your growth as a writer–and can be fun–it’s also wise to consider what you do best. Some writers have a gift for “voice,” others for characterization, for dialogue, or for plot. Think about the area where you feel the most comfortable, where you shine. Ask yourself if what you are writing features your talents. If not, hit the delete key . . . but not before saving a copy.