I was visiting my filing cabinet today, looking for an early draft of a manuscript as I set out on revisions again. When I couldn’t find it where I’d thought I’d put it, I ended up wading deeper and deeper into the murky depths of my dead files. Deep in the back of the cabinet, I rediscovered old stories that I wrote way back when–you know, the ones begging to be written that first called us to pick up the pen.
As I pulled out the handwritten pages, a touch of the excitement I’d felt when I first wrote these stories tingled through me. Back then, there were no worries about themes or escalating stakes and tension, no lost sleep over how to create the perfect hook opening or snag an agent. Back then, writing was pure joy. I remember feeling that at last I’d found something that gave me true satisfaction, something I could succeed at.
Of course, we all know there’s a reason why they end up in the back of the filing cabinet. The more we write, the more we learn. The more we learn, the more we understand that some of those stories just aren’t going to make it. The works we once believed gleamed of pure platinum were actually closer to Swiss cheese, riddled with cliches, weak characters and disconnected plots. In a fit of embarrassment, we banish them to the dead file, vowing to never let another soul see our muddled first attempts.
And yet we file these away, rather than shredding the evidence. The reason is because these stories showed us a glimpse of the future, they made us BELIEVE. Good, bad or ugly, they are ours, and they are special.
I thought we should have a post to salute those all-important first tries. Let’s give them their due, and while we dare not show them to others, we can talk about them, sharing what drove us to write them in the first place.
My first attempt was a 1200 word picture book called A Frog Named Flamingo. It was about a frog that fell asleep in the sun the afternoon before his Naming Day and woke with a bright red sunburn. Mortified, he tries all sorts of ways to disguise his skin so the other frogs don’t make fun of him–dirt, mud, etc–but in the end faces his fellow frogs in his own skin. He is given the name Flamingo, and discovers that being different is not always a bad thing.
The theme of not fitting in has always appealed to me, and that being different doesn’t have to be a negative experience. This book taught me a lot, including that I had a hard time working within the descriptive constraints of a picture book, and that I probably wasn’t suited for this type of writing, lol. My aunt, an illustrator, kindly made up some sample illos for the story, which I still have. Someday I might just bind it up myself, just as a keepsake.
So, who else is up for a little sharing?
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.