Are You Willing To Trash Your Art?

Spoiler alert: You should be. Here are a few reasons why.

Are You Willing To Trash Your Art?
Photo by Overture Creations / Unsplash

Morning pages are a way many writers jumpstart their creativity. A lot of the advice surrounding morning pages is fantastic but I’m here with an unconventional take: Write your words and delete. Trash them for eternity. Set fire if you have to. Make like they never existed.

Am I crazy? Not at all! In fact, deleting work is something very successful creatives do.

Rosemary Wells is a children’s book author and illustrator. Every morning before she starts work, Rosemary creates a painting to her liking and throws it away. Right in the trash. Never seen by anyone but herself.

Can you do it? Can you throw away your art?

Eddie Huang is the badass chef behind New York City’s Baohaus and the inspiration for the television show, Fresh Off The Boat. In his memoir, Eddie explains the cooking process of “throwing out the first.”

When cooking, the first batch of anything always gets trashed. Eddie throws out the first batch of noodles, the first pancake, the first fat cooked off when brazing pork. Why? The first makes room for the best.

The first pancake ensures the pan’s temperature is correct. The first noodles leave starch in the water to ensure the batch to come is perfect. Throwing out the first is not an act of waste, it’s preparing to put your best work forward.

Can you throw away your writing?

In her book, Embrace Your Weird, Felicia Day talks about hitting delete. It comes down to having agency over our own lives. When we’re okay with throwing things out we’ve created, we achieve a power over our lives we don’t otherwise have. And when we feel powerful, we can unlock our creativity. As Felicia says:

Is it a waste of time to write stuff we will throw away in the end? Well, time passes either way so we can waste time being stuck or waste time trying to get past it.

Hitting delete isn’t just cathartic, it frees up our creativity. Here are five ways to unlock creativity by throwing out the first.

Approach 1: Story Time

Pick a random object, preferably one within eyesight. Set a timer for 10 minutes and write a story involving that object. Maybe it saves the planet? Maybe not? Who knows? This is your story. Make it the best story you can. Read through it once and delete every existence.

Approach 2: Stream Of Consciousness

Don’t think. Just write. Go with whatever pops into your head. Spend 10 minutes letting your brain take you in any direction possible. Don’t stop to edit, read, or contemplate. Keep moving until the end. Read your thoughts. They won’t be fantastic, but they will be yours. Delete them and move on.

Approach 3: Kill Your Darlings

Pick one of your own characters or a favorite from someone else’s work. Have the character in mind? Write a scene where they die. Is it heroic, tragic, chaotic? Go with it. Read it and trash it. If you chose your own characters, you must resist the urge to hold on and use this. That’s not the point here. You can keep the idea but delete the words.

Approach 4: Time Travel

Send yourself back in time to give advice to someone that significantly changes the future. Don’t worry about the Butterfly Effect because this story has no stakes. Write the scene, read it — and by now you know the drill — delete with abandon.

Approach 5: Give In To The Most Dangerous Writing App

This is a free app online where you get a random prompt and then type. If you stop typing, the words get deleted. Spending time on anything you cared about and this app is super dangerous. But the whole point of our exercise is to delete our work so, if you might have difficulty deleting your work, then this app is perfect for you.

Whatever approach you take, the key here is throwing out your work. The first time is super difficult; there’s no doubt about that. But each time gets easier and easier. Remember, deleting the first makes way for the best.

Now go take out the trash.

Justin Cox Justin Cox

Justin Cox is a donut-loving, word-writing, nonprofit consultant based in Orlando. He also runs The Writing Cooperative on Medium. Come say hello!