In a post a couple of weeks back, Kate talked about “practice pieces.” Pieces you write and feel free to be as out of it, or as in it as you wish because no one will ever ever ever see it. She also said if you don’t have a practice piece going, you should try to get it.
Now, those of you who know of my strong and indelible aversion to writing only for myself are probably thinking “Ah, bet you Sarah doesn’t have a practice piece.”
You would of course be wrong. Sarahs are that way. This particular Sarah has several practice pieces, ranging from snippets that will never go anywhere to fully developed short stories, to partial novels. I don’t have a finished novel, but I have novels I could finish given a couple of days.
Practice pieces – that are started knowing they will never see the light of day or at least never see the light of day in their present form – are things that I’m not sure I can pull off; I’m sure I can pull off but sure I can’t sell; sure I can pull off AND sell but don’t want associated with me, even at the remove of a pen name (or two.)
They are the equivalent of doodling pieces done by artists, which are never going to interest anyone unless you happen to be Leonardo DaVinci.
So, you’re wondering what is the difference between these pieces and stuff you begin and never finish, the never ending bits and pieces that all of us have in file cabinets, on our desks, or in our drive?
Well, practice pieces are sort of part of a pact with yourself. You save them to a special place, perhaps. The fact you know no one will ever see them but you allows you to try things without your friends/editors/fans thinking you’re stupid or not competent or sick or... I often use my practice pieces to experiment with extreme situations and see how far I can push things before I break a character, for instance. Also to feel the power in that sort of situation and figure out how to harness it for others.
Now, mind you, some of my stories do move from the private file – particularly the ones that are fine, but don’t have a market. Markets change. But at that point they must be stories I’m no longer working on, so I don’t feel like I violated my own trust. (Be still. It’s weird in here. If it’s not weird behind your eyes, you’re not a writer.) At that point it is the equivalent of taking a sketch and fleshing it out into a painting.
But most of my stories in the practice file will remain in there forever, safely locked up.
So, do you have a practice file? What do you keep in it? (General, not violating your own privacy.) Do you find it useful? Would you consider having one?