Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Writing: what's worth hanging on to?

I'm not very sentimental when it comes to things. It's probably true, as fellow writer and blogger Fiction Forge claims, that international moves will do that to a person. And the past few weeks I really have been intent on that clearance sale mindset, everything must go!

So this past Sunday, I settled myself comfortably on the floor, and began to go through two drawers (and 15 years worth) of writing: drafts, notes, rejections, memorabilia. I knew it would be painful--I would've never dared get rid of it all if it hadn't been for the move, and the premium on space--but I hadn't realized what a lovely trip it would be, too.

I discovered multiple copies of a poster from a reading in I did in college, an encouraging note from a writer friend in Chicago, even a hysterical parody of a high school English teacher. I found a piece I wrote from my dog's perspective, of which I have no memory, but it's surprisingly heartfelt (it may have to be resurrected) and included this beauty of a line: "If you can't kill a bone in one night, it wins." I also discovered a lot of rejections--but some lovely rejections, with handwritten notes, back before I knew what a big deal that was. 

Here's what I piled in the kitchen hallway for recycling:

  • Old Writer and SCBWI magazines
  • Several year's worth of SCBWI membership cards
  • At least seven notebooks, filled with drafts and notes
  • Printed drafts
  • Drafts from workshops with handwritten notes
  • Assignments from my MA, including my ginormous (and, I must say, quite insightful on re-reading!) essay on cover art
  • Plot charts, character maps, exercises galore
  • Two ribbon-tied stacks of notecards, filled with plot points
  • Handouts from classes, workshops, conferences
  • All those old rejections (who saves rejections, even nice ones?!)

Like I said, painful, even scary, but I think it's the right move. It's not like I ever look through that stuff, except for occasionally diving in for a useful handout. It's all for past work, which will either be read and enjoyed as is in the coming years (in which case, I don't need to worry about all the notes and edits), or which will need to be massively rewritten at some point, in which case I really don't want old notes and plot charts to interfere with seeing the work with fresh eyes--though that was some of the hardest bits to toss. All the drafts are saved on my computer, which is frequently backed up--I even dug up the dog story!

Of course, my future biographer may forever look back at this moment with agony, but I'll just have to take that chance.

Here's what I kept:

  • Typed evaluations from each module from my MA (some of those comments are a goldmine!)
  • An envelope of critiques on the piece that won me a placed in the SCBWI anthology, Undiscovered Voices.
  • A stack of agents & editors' business cards--okay, some of them have since rejected me, but still, I have a stack of agents & editors' business cards!
  • Handouts on plot, tension, character building, and synopsis writing to which I still frequently refer
  • That parody of the high school English teacher--goodness, who knew I was such a clever 18 year old! And I bet that's NOT on my hard drive!
  • A personal essay I wrote for my MA in Chicago, including my teacher's encouraging handwritten notes
  • A single copy of that poster from my college reading
  • And, of course, all my notes and current notebooks for Project Demo and Project Fun. Still a full folder of stuff--I'm not totally crazy, really.

What old writing do you hang on to? What do you toss?

In further news, the last day in Bristol is two weeks from today. I'm also hoping to get my latest revision of Project Demo off by then. So yes, life continues to be manic!


  1. I have very little (I purged a lot in the first international move). At the moment I have some issues of SCBWI magazines (have read them and need to recycle), some print outs of WIPs (long since obsolete) that I made to take with me on the train to Paris last year (need to recycle those), and lots and lots of notebooks with random bits of inspiration in them (all keepers).

    Most of my outlines, ideas, plotting diagrams, etc. are either in the aforementioned notebooks or on the computer (which is backed up). The rest of my writing "stuff" consists of books about craft. Enough paper accumulates around this place waiting to be sorted without me adding to it with my writing so I try to be as electronic and minimalist as possible (just my notebooks).

    Best of luck with the remaining details of the move! Exciting times.

    1. I should clarify that "lots and lots" of notebooks = about 5 or 6, in various sizes for bringing with me when I'm out and about, and one larger one for when I'm thinking things out with paper and pencil at home.


    2. Thank goodness for computers, huh? I would've had a LOT more stuff to cart around if it wasn't for my hard drive (and spare drive, but still, less!).

  2. The last time I cleaned out my file cabinet I got rid of lots of stuff. Duplicate MS copies, rejection letters, stories that were embarrassingly bad. And yes, I probably have too many notebooks. I feel like if I can squeeze it into the bookshelf, then it's not really taking up any added space, so why not?! But that philosophy will catch up tome, I'm sure. I'm probably due for a really big clean out like you're tackling. Might be a good winter project. . .

    1. Hah! That's exactly what I did, Ruth--just kept shoving stuff into those two drawers. And yes, there was a lot of extra baggage there, even if I wasn't being merciless!

  3. Getting rid of old drafts tends to make me nervous, but like you, I sat in front of my file cabinet one day a while back and went through it all. I made two piles. Surprisingly, it ended up being painless—out with the old (to make room for the new).

    Someday I have to sift through stacks of old clippings and printed copies of research for possible (as in, someday I want to write about that) article manuscripts.

    And last month I had a magazine purge. It felt good.

    1. Eeek, sorting through a possible research folder sounds a little more stressful--throwing out all sorts of possibilities!

      But it does feel good to have my only my one folder.

    2. Oh, no, not valid research! Eeek is right. Sorry about that. Just odd clippings and such on things that struck my fancy and that no longer do. Besides, the NYT archives will have it if I change my mind ;)

    3. Oh no worries, I think I understood what you meant! But somehow even throwing out clippings and odd interesting articles would worry me... who knows when that stuff could come in handy! But of course that's just me being paranoid... after all, as we both know, story ideas are a dime a dozen, especially if they no longer strike your fancy!

  4. Don't you feel lighter and better? I find that discarding dead-weight makes what I keep so much more usable, valuable, and helpful. This goes for papers and everything else.

    1. I don't know if better--I keep looking mournfully at the stacks in the kitchen! I need recycling day to come soon! But I do feel lighter, and productive, and I know I'll appreciate it setting up in the new place and being able to find everything I need easily.

  5. Oh, I wouldn't know what to toss or what to keep. When I moved from my apartment to my house, I brought EVERYTHING. Ha ha. I know for my next move it can't bet that way.

    I think you made some wise decisions though.

    1. I hope I won't come to regret tossing any of that... it's so nice to hold onto it all and not have to make those decisions. But you're right, eventually it does have to go. Glad to hear at least one person thinks I made some wise decisions! ;)

  6. The thing I found astounding is...you took your high school essays to England with you?

    1. Hah! I know, right? Honestly, I only found that one in my pile... I must've gone through it back then and thought "This is brilliant, I must hang onto it!" before I promptly forgot about it again.

      If I had to do the move to England all over again, it would've been much lighter. We had a big chunk of moving expenses covered, and so many nice things, so it was hard to wean it down to just a few suitcases. Much better this time going back!

  7. Good for you! I did a major purge when we moved last year and my future biographer will just have to put up with it ;) What Mirka said really resonates.

    1. Hah! Our future biographers can commiserate! ;)

      Mirka's definitely right about purging cleaning out more than just our houses!


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