As a kid I had this stash of treasures I kept in the bottom drawer of my dresser. You know the kind. Most kids have one. Maybe you were a traditionalist and kept yours in an old cigar or shoe box.
I kept mine in the bottom drawer of my dresser, tucked underneath my undies (so my brother wouldn’t find them). Letters from friends folded like origami envelopes (remember this one?), a game piece that looked too cool to toss when the game board tore in half (hello Monopoly shoe!), and sticks of Big Red gum.
The treasure I remember best in that stash was this hardcover journal that always felt too good to write in.
I kept that journal for a long time without writing in it. It just seemed too good somehow for the kind of journal entries and stories I was writing. It was a hardcover journal after all. That’s like a book, I thought, and books are immortal. If I was going to write in something that would last forever, it had to be perfect.
Well I couldn’t bring myself to write in it, but I couldn’t leave it alone either. I collected beautiful things to decorate the journal with, tucking them carefully into the drawer with my other treasures. This goth-looking metal cross with a faux ruby I’d saved from a broken choker. A handful of rhinestones that had fallen off a jacket. A piece of black lace my grandmother gave me.
Sometimes I’d take the objects out, lay them out on the journal in various configurations. But I’d planned and obsessed over the perfect layout, the perfect pieces, for so long that I never could bring myself to glue them down. What if I messed up? What if I finally glued them down, and I hated how it looked? After so much thought and energy and love I’d put into this project before I ever got started, how could the reality of what I created possibly match the perfection that was in my head?
To match the epicness of that journal, I thought my writing and the decorations had to be extraordinary.
I know what you’re going to say, and you’re right. Better to just get messy. Perfectionism blocks creativity. Art doesn’t have to be perfect. Etcetera. I get it.
But what I really want to say is, looking back, all those pieces were junk. The rhinestones were cheap. The cross was peeling. The fake ruby cracked. They had value to me then because of who I was, a lonely kid who spent more time writing and dreaming in her room than she spent with people. And holding onto them meant watching them fade from treasure into trash as I grew up and out of the person I was who loved them.
When you hold onto those things that seem precious—that perfect line of dialogue or that glimmering plot point or the character you’ve been carrying around in your head—when you wait for that perfect story to use them on, what you’re really signing up for is holding onto that piece of whatever until you no longer love it and you’re happy to let it go.
Someday those elements you treasure will be junk to you. And what you miss out on isn’t an imperfect story that might have gotten you closer to the perfect one. You miss out on the perspective you had in that moment that made you find value in it to begin with. And it’s that perspective that is gold. You’ll never look at the world the same as you do right now. So get it down on paper.
I’ll never recapture the worldview of that eleven-year-old kid who treasured what she treasured. And I’ll never get to experience from my adult perspective the ideas and stories I might have written in that particular journal.
Maybe right now no story feels good enough to use your treasures on. And maybe you’ll hate the words when you finally get them down. But it can only become a true treasure to you, something that lasts through the rest of your life, if you use them while they matter.
So use everything you love in your writing. Use it right now. And trust that more treasures will come your way in time for the next one.
Save nothing, writer.
Exercise: Dust off that list of great ideas in your swipe file, the ones you’ve been waiting to use until you found that perfect story to use them in. Choose a few that seem to go together or choose a few at random, and pull them together into a story. Any story. Even if it isn’t a good one. Hey, if it sucks you can reuse them somewhere else.
Happy writing <3