What’s in Your Drawer?

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What’s in Your Drawer?

Drawer2It’s time to discuss “The Drawer.” Oh, don’t play coy. You know what I mean. I’m talking the drawer that should house your first baby steps in the writing world. This is the work that’s not quite ready for the light of day, the stories that should be put away and forgotten. It’s a test run. Dress rehearsal. Of course, the things you mess up in that first project should pave the way for future success.

I don’t mind sharing–I have a drawer. The first time I took a fiction class was in graduate school, and the first short story I wrote was about a guy, unlucky in love, who falls for the perfect woman: she’s beautiful, strong, confident, and she never thinks what he says is trite or boring. Too bad she’s also a statue, a marble Helen of Troy he found in the park.

Of course, we never realize what we’re writing belongs in a drawer until we’re finished and have some distance. At the time, I thought my statue story was deep and ironic, and that the cute ladies in the class would totally dig me. “Did you read that story with the statue?” they’d whisper. “He’s so contemplative!” Not surprisingly, these conversations didn’t happen, as I missed not only the boat but also the whole Eastern seaboard.

The sad truth is that you may well be writing a drawer novel right now. But that’s okay! We all learn by doing, by revising, and by perfecting. In fact, between the other Upstart Crows, I’m sure we’ll have plenty of blog posts that will cover all different stages of revision.

But for today, I’m talking about those projects that are beyond help. Some of the lucky ones have a very shallow drawer; others have whole filing cabinets. It’s important both to be willing to put a project that’s not working aside to focus on newer pursuits, and to make sure that each piece is stronger than the next.

So how about it? Do YOU have a project that wound up in the drawer? If so, “pitch” it in 25 words or less in the comments. Bonus points for truly bad ideas. Don’t be shy!

Drawer2
  1. Little Pearls (of wisdom, get it?) Part memoir, part poetry, part snarky vignettes. 15 years in the making. Terrifically dull, tragically discombobulated.

    (Hmm, when put in this light, it sounds intriguing. Maybe I should pull it out and try to perform CPR. Oh wait, I can’t open the drawer. The “book” seems to have melted and left an uber-ugly, bad-smelling mess stuck to the wood. Too bad. It was probably the one thing the publishing biz needed to lift itself out its slump. Bummer!)

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  2. My junior high creative writing project:

    Amy, coping with a terminal illness, looks for a way out of an abusive relationship and discovers her best friend is anorexic.

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  3. My creative writing senior thesis, called Take This Woman, was about a woman who is kidnapped in 1980s Peru just as her marriage has ended. When the kidnappers ask for ransom, her husband has to choose between saving his past or investing in his future.

    It needs a lot more research, and a lot better writing in my opinion. Maybe one day I’ll go back to it but right now it’s definitely deep in the drawer.

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  4. Chris, your story is actually similar to a movie with Ava Gardner as a department store manequin. I can’t remember the title or the male lead, but I think it was based on a Kurt Weill musical but they dropped the music for the movie (which makes absolutely no sense).

    Anyway. Not necessarily a bad a premise. Cast Ava Gardner in her heyday, and you can get away with anything.

    I have three “drawer” novels and a hundred false starts and missteps. The only one I’ve truly given up on is the sci fi novel about a virtual reality getaway where anything goes — basically it’s about Second Life, but I wrote it in 1994.

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  5. My first novel hides in my drawer – a rendering of the fantasy world my best friend, little brother, and me created in the seemingly endless forests behind my childhood home. It’s not a secret shame, and maybe someday it will come out into the light (though heavily, heavily edited). I think that starting out writing something so close to my heart gave me more confidence to stick with it and work harder at learning the craft.

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  6. My first book was 12yrs and 6 books ago and–don’t laugh–okay, so laugh, it’s funny pitiful. It was titled SECOND CHANCES–the world’s MOST cliche’ title. I am the revision Queen. I LOVE to revise and make my books better, but this story is beyond redemption. As soon as I joined a writers group and started writing my second book, SECOND CHANCES left me totally uninspired–so how could a reader be more impressed?

    I THINK –don’t know for sure ’cause apparently I deleted the file–yes, I killed and buried my baby. I bet Freud would have a field day with that! I think, it was a very nice drab Brady Bunchesk romantic tale, totally lacking tension and conflict.

    A little education from writers groups and a conference or two helps point a writer in the right direction. Should have done a little research before investing all that time in a full 100,000 word effort, but I didn’t, so there you have it.

    But I must say . . . the 4 books to follow are MUCH better! And I have very high hopes for #6–my work in progress.

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  7. Here it is, in 25 words:

    “Lonely teen with Interdimensional abilities unwittingly solves historical mystery. Demonic repercussions from another realm send her running for her life—and into forbidden love’s arms.”

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  8. In high school I wrote and performed what was (in retrospect) a completely maudlin and awful fiction monologue about a friend who committed suicide. I’m very glad that I don’t have any performances on tape. I don’t want to know if my acting was as bad as my writing…

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  9. Thanks for the replies so far, but don’t forget to write a pitch in 25 words for these drawer novels! I love Cole, Natalia, and Kurtis':

    Cole: Amy, coping with a terminal illness, looks for a way out of an abusive relationship and discovers her best friend is anorexic.

    Natalia: Take This Woman…about a woman who is kidnapped in 1980s Peru just as her marriage has ended. When the kidnappers ask for ransom, her husband has to choose between saving his past or investing in his future.

    Kurtis: [A] sci fi novel about a virtual reality getaway where anything goes — basically it’s about Second Life, but I wrote it in 1994.

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  10. @Chris–Thanks! Know anyone who might wanna rescue it form the dark & lonely drawer life??

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  11. Oh, Tannenbaum: a picture book Christmas story about a married couple–mostly written in copyrighted song lyrics.

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  12. A wonderful, happy, well-adjusted girl, with no problems what-so-ever in her life, runs around town solving mysteries by happenstance. Her favorite thing to do is have flowery conversations with her parents over warm cookies and milk. And yes, that last part was *the* whole scene of the first chapter.

    My niece advised me on changes for this particular drawer-compost. “Aunt Leni,” she said. “Why don’t you have the bad guy throw your protagonist in a cellar.” Clearly, she had been reading too much Nancy Drew, and, sadly, she got the point better than I did.

    ~Leni

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  13. Circus freaks kidnap Duncan’s twin brother. He enters a strange mirror maze to save him. Wackiness and mayhem ensue.

    Not only does my first completed book deserve to be in a drawer, but it deserves to be in a drawer, encased in concrete and buried at the bottom of the ocean.

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  14. Here’s a more serious go:

    A corporate drone in futuristic “Amexica” builds a virtual getaway (on company servers) where people can act out their wildest fantasies. He’s in big trouble.

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  15. Great post. I love the idea of a guy talking to a statue. I would have been there, swooning. Or at least smiling and nodding.

    My first attempt at a story was this: A girl falls for her best friend (so over-done) and conveniently, everything stands in their way (cliche and trite) and minor miscommunications keep them apart (yawn).

    It was a blast to write and I learned a lot in the process. Like say, that romance novels are longer than 40,000 words. However, it is most definitely not a salvageable piece, that’s for sure.

    :)

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  16. A middle-aged woman becomes obsessed with health and safety. This fatal flaw leads her to injuring those she loves, burning her house down, and winding up in jail. Embarrassed to admit that this short story actually made it into print with my name on it. Forget the drawer, it’s boxed in the attic somewhere.

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  17. Medieval girl heaves her bodice at the castle’s hot new knight while getting randomly and repeatedly kidnapped by nefarious villains throughout this delightfully plotless romp.

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  18. Deep in my drawer: A collection of humorous parenting essays ala Erma Bombeck with titles like: “If you’ve got a booger, put it in your pocket” and “Even Darth Vadar poops in the toilet.”

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  19. Through mysterious means I never explained fully in my manuscript, Jane Austen comes back to life and after an initial period of amnesia-like confusion, dispenses romance advice to modern ladies and gentlemen.

    So stupid.

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  20. Friends convince Timmy the Termite to leave his home in the woods and eat wood with the bark already removed. What seemed like a good idea turns horribly bad when a foul smelling liquid starts flowing through the termite tunnels. Timmy barely survives.

    My wife read this and rolled her eyes. I put it in the drawer.

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  21. Narcoleptic female spy and her cocky half-android partner infiltrate organization of a mad scientist to steal his futuristic weapon that can kill using sound waves.

    Ah, yes. Truly drawer material. :-)

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  22. My drawer novel is about a young teacher who gets kidnapped and is held captive in Canada where he and captors encounter a bizarre cavalcade of strange characters, including a three-legged wolf who happens to be a packrat, a mannequin dressed up like a fisherman, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer with a penchant for juice, palindromes, and candy necklaces, a family of traveling evangelicals, and a fugitive Elvis look-alike who may or may not be the real Elvis.

    I cheated because that is obviously more than 25 words. But it’s clearly way too awesome of an idea to be summed up in only 25 words.

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  23. Lynette’s brother vanished up on Hazzelbrach Ridge. Left behind was a noose and no justice. Decades later, a student’s watercolor sheds light into Lynette’s shattered past.

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  24. It’s “Stuart Little” meets “Twins” when two hamsters escape. One refuses to return to the predictable life in the cage. Will the other go back to the safety of home, or face his fears and stay with his friend “outside?”

    Imagine Schwarzenegger and DeVito in fur coats, hiding sunflower seeds in a pile of pine shavings.

    Then again, don’t.

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  25. Nine men on a quest to be the first champions in twenty-five years armed with only wood and leather.

    I wrote it ten years ago knowing this story would come true in 2009. ;)

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  26. Twins find a secret passage, fall through a portal, find another world, learn of prophecy where they are heroes, fight bad guys, and return home.

    It has every dang cliche you can think of :)
    But I thought it was good, darn it!

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  27. Six teenagers are thrust into a real game of Clue when the host of the Clue themed party is murdered.

    It was handwritten and I never figured out who the murderer was.

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  28. A group of teens, all born on the same night, are ‘transformed’ by the light from a supernova — and sought by wicked government.

    Might possibly have been inspired by THE GIRL WITH THE SILVER EYES…teen version.

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  29. A nerdy girl masquerading as an heiress accidentally falls in love with the wrong guy. Hilarity ensues (not!)

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  30. Way back when, Scottish lass with important, secret info searches out bad-ass laird and demands he marry her for protection.

    I’d forgotten about this until your post. Not sure I should thank you for bringing back this particular memory :) It was pretty dreadful!

    Reply

  31. I followed the advice to write about what I know for my first full-length novel and came up with:

    Sarah, coping with severe OCD, is shocked by a co-worker’s murder and realizes that someone is also stalking her. When you’re paranoid, everyone’s a suspect.

    (Actually, the OCD is what I know about… not the murder part.)

    I then made the monumental mistake of starting a series of books involving peripheral characters where this murder mystery comes up. So, I keep shoving it in the drawer and pulling it out. I’m determined to salvage it, but it’s 1st person stream of consciousness and climbing inside the mind of someone with OCD is scary. We’ll see if I can smooth down the edges so it’s not a horror genre.

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  32. Absent-minded Grandpa Emil, moves in with Siri and her mother,and offers to help Siri build a troll trap in the woods.

    I know, I know. You’re hooked! Wrote this too many years ago to count. I will say, I love these characters. Periodically, I open the drawer to say, “Hello.”

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  33. This one never made it much past the concept stage. It was fun to play with though and does explain why Canadians can drink such strong beer and withstand the cold.

    Moscow on the Medicine Line
    Canada is fake. It’s a Russian outpost for spying on the USA. The bears, the poutine, the polite chit-chat are all a clever facade. That is, until two men defect.

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  34. Thanks, Chris!

    What’s funny is that since it was a senior thesis, it’s probably in my university’s library somewhere. I shudder to think that someone might read it in its early, terrible stages.

    Wait…that wouldn’t mean it’s been published, right?

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  35. My very first novel:

    A wonderful, mature, obedient boy faces one disaster after another. He always does the right thing and accepts or solves each problem within one chapter.

    By the fourth chapter, even I hated my sweet and wonderful hero. I got critiques and realized he was just too good. So to fix that I gave him a flaw. I made him a whiner. :)

    I finally buried the poor boy.

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  36. A novel I finished in high school – romance/crime:
    Woman falls in love with cop who is investigating the murder of her abusive boyfriend, who discovered the drug company he is working for is making people sick with cancer.

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  37. Sci-fi:
    A bronze age queen is resurrected in the 23rd century
    to stop a goddess and restore order to the galaxy.

    I wrote it in high school and it’s terrible. But I actually kind of like the concept and will probably steal ideas from the novel for future projects.

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  38. Okay, I’m reading back over these and there are quite a few drawer novels that actually sound interesting. Some of you need to revisit drawer novels!

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  39. An irreverent lordling overcomes his snobbery, falls in love, turns into a murderous mage-prat, and then returns from the dark side, only to find the world around him collapsing.

    Okay, more than 25 words, but the story clocked in at near 400k, so I figured this was an appropos trunkette.

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  40. Young boy uses local newspaper fame from baseball in order to attract his father, whom he never met, but knows is out there. Includes box scores.

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  41. I have dozens, but my favorite drawer story is the one with a magic flying scooter. He really leaves those bullies in the dust!

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  42. No Title: Completely unremarkable girl living in far-future world with near-future technology is kidnapped by blackclad aliens, reunited with her long-lost brother, and made to prophecize her way home.

    (What? I was eleven, okay!?)

    =D

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  43. WHAT ARE THESE BOOTS DOING IN MY FREEZER? could’ve been written by Erma Bombeck, but it wasn’t. It was written by me. ‘nuf said.

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  44. I-DON’T-RECALL-THE-TITLE is Anno Hideaki’s “Evangelion” recast as a space opera. The plot, characters, and themes are all essentially the same, only handled in a remarkably incompetent fashion. A surefire hit!

    In my defense, the Evangelion rip-off is a proud, longstanding genre.

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  45. Ok, ok… So I’m going to pitch you my horribly embarrassing trunk story (first novel, finished in 8th grade complete with illustrations, 45k words… er novelette.)
    *ahem
    Kids find an alien artifact in an empty field. It gives them alien intelligence (and fur… for some reason) which they use to construct a mysterious machine. Now they have to run away from men in black. When they finally realize what they are making they must face the greatest and most terrifying choice of their lives.
    (50+ word pitch… sorry)—But hey, that’s not too shabby for a Jr. High trunk story. Maybe…
    Well, it won’t do with the title I had given it: Fuzzy Wobbler. Yeah. W.T.F.

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  46. A man in a bar tells the story of an alien machine with two wheels (one with sharp teeth and one with some sort of protuberance) he found on an alien world. His partner double crossed him and left him locked in a room with no food, and rescue months away, nothing but featureless metal cylinders with him in the room. Fortunately he figured out the machine was a can opener.

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  47. THE TOMB. Criminals are housed in an underground prison system nicknamed The Tomb. After nuclear war, the only survivors are those underground.

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  48. Shadow Moorings:

    Angels and demons grant their power to select humans who fight a proxy war on earth.

    They shoot fire out of their hands and stuff. My friend read it and killed himself.

    But now I have an agent so who got the last laugh? Me or the MS I put in a glass case and sank in a tub full of acid.

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  49. Ha ha ha. No short stories in my drawer, but two novels–a YA one about a group of superpowered teens discovering the origins of their abilities while fending off child-endangerment lobbying groups, and a second about a cop in a corrupt city.

    Not sure which one I like (or dislike) more.

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  50. Crimson sight: Written my Freshman year of high school. Novel about Psychic vampires living in Alaska. Note that this was before all agents/editors started cringing at the word “vampire”

    Nameless: Written my second year of high school, and then promptly destroyed upon completion. I shall never write anything without an outline again. But there is some hope for the main character in the future. We shall see.

    ESCAPADE: My current project. Will not end up in the drawer, because…well really, third time’s a charm isn’t it?

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  51. Retired and near death, a Wisconsin weekly newspaper editor recounts his decades-long unrequited love affair with an small-town girl, a Norwegian immigrant’s daughter who becomes an unlikely leader of the women’s suffrage movement.

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  52. 101 ways to murder your boss without sabotaging your career

    (wrote this one when I was pissed at my boss for making me remove a dead duck from his designated parking space, right after I returned from the bank where I had to break two $20 dollar bills for him, so he’d have tip money for his weekly strip-club lunch).

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  53. Winnetou marries (not) is about a Native Indian who does not marry although he had planned to.
    It’s 28 words and was written when I was 7.

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  54. A trilogy about three sisters who have extra-sensory perception and often cut class to fight the baddies of the world. Like a teenage version of Powerpuff Girls. I cringe just thinking about it.

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  55. So far I haven’t given up on any of my story ideas. But then I also have only finished some poems/songs and one short story. Maybe if I dropped more I’d finish more.

    I am kinda proud of the short story though, (recently published in my Writers Group anthology.

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  56. In “Hamster Hollow” Rhodo, the hamster, drags his three friends, Buttons, Pockets, and Chipper into a perilous adventure in Wild Meadow, only to find his kid sister, Tulip, has tagged along to spoil the fun.

    Someday, when talking animals are okay again, I’m going to pull this out and rework it and send it in!

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  57. Just discovered the Crows’ blog and this particular post resonated. My drawer space is freshly dug, where I laid to rest two beloved manuscripts still bleeding and torn.

    “A million old soldiers will fade away, but a dream goes on forever.”

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