Paper Trail

paper nest

I seem to have developed a latent cleaning compulsion as a response to stress and/or writing avoidance—I’m as surprised as you are—and spent the weekend cleaning and rearranging my desk and going through my overstuffed file cabinet.*

So far, I’ve found research for abandoned and active stories, clippings, half-written first chapters, short stories, shipwrecks, dialogue chunks, outlines, plot bunny droppings, frankendrafts,** essays, extremely questionable poetry, and various other scribbles of a fictional nature.***

Some of the fiction writing dates back to my college days and some is older. There are dot matrix printouts in there, wide-ruled notebook paper written in pencil, floppy disks^ and a lot of adolescent angst.

So, I’ve been hauling this stuff around since I was at least thirteen,^^  keeping it as close as Smaug did Erebor’s net domestic product and defending it with as much sanity as Thorin hoping to uncover a publishable Arkenstone—or a certain protoHobbit searching for his birthday present.

This hoard of mismatched wordsmithing is my work.  It’s my precious.

But, you know . . .

Those drawers are packed so full that they’re useless, and it’s getting to the point that . . .

It might be time to. . .

I mean, it’s possible that some of this stuff isn’t . . .

And it’s not like I really believe I’m ever going to finish that story about the . . .

I don’t even remember writing that scene and it’s just a single loose sheet of paper so there’s no context for it, so there’s no point in . . .

But what if I need it . . .

It’s been more difficult than I thought to pare it all down—it’s painful.

Because I have four drawers (and several cartons and binders) full of clinkers and clunkers

Coal Scuttle

but I can’t help seeing each one as a you-know-what in the rough


that might, if I just applied myself, turn into something fantastic.

Diamond Ring

Except that’s not true.

There may be a few diamonds among the dross, but only a few—and as time passes, they tend to disappear.

I’m not the same person I was when I started making stuff up and putting it down. I don’t think the same way, feel the same way, or express myself in the same ways. My imagination may be a tad slower, but it has a lot more raw material to work with.

And these drawers and cartons full of words and thoughts,  ink and flattened fiber pulp were instrumental in that development.  They aren’t failures or wasted potential—but their work here is done and they’re blocking my way.  Literally and literarily.

They’re a collection of dull, abandoned, heavy carapaces from a series of scintillating insects that flew off a long time ago.

And to be honest, some of ‘em need to be shredded before anyone else can get a good look.  Especially the children.

So I’m taking it a folder at a time.   Reading, recognizing, wondering, wincing, saving, shredding.

Acknowledging. Honoring.  Releasing.

I’ve done a desk shelf and two and a half drawer.  So far, my Keeper stack is smaller than my recycling pile.

It still hurts a little to let go, but I think I have the hang of it now.

I’m still planning on sedation, though, when the time comes to tackle my bookshelves . . .


*Ever see one of those commercials where a pile of folded sweaters approximately the height of Hasheem Thabeet is crammed into a plastic bag and vacuum-sealed down to the width of Giselle Bundchen?  It’s the same principle, except I used wooden drawers and brute force.

**You know—the drafts cobbled together out of typed and handwritten pages, scrap paper, envelopes, post-its, napkins, images, and digital files saved . . . somewhere.

*** Along with ancient and presumably paid bills, medical assessments, paycheck stubs from a job I left twenty years, school papers and deathless art generated by my kids, not to mention my old IQ tests from ages 6 and 11 which were, in my opinion, a tad optimistic.

^The 3½” ones, thank you, so you can keep your age-related technology jokes to yourself. We who were born before the invention of the Internet and entered the workforce when ASCII was king do not appreciate them. Mouse dependent whippersnappers . . .

^^Though some of it had been archived for decades in my childhood home, until it was dumped on passed back to me by Dad during one of my folks’ U-haul-themed Thanksgiving visits.


Image of the coal scuttle by Lajsikonik is shared under creative commons license via Wikimedia Commons.

 Image of the rough diamond is from the United Stated Geological Survey and is in the public domain.

Image of the diamond ring by TQ Diamonds  is shared under creative commons license via Wikimedia Commons.


12 thoughts on “Paper Trail

  1. I’ve always been glad to know that–that writing is practice, and you have to do a great deal of it to get better. It makes the stories that fizzle out less painful.

    Impressive that you kept so much, and more so that you’re letting some of it go. Good luck with those bookshelves! I did a culling myself not to long ago, and it had its difficult moments.

    • It’s kind of like dating, really . . .

      I finished with the drawers yesterday!

      All the “inactive” manuscripts I’m keeping fit into one drawer, though after I figure out the books, I’ll go through each folder again to weed out the redundant copies—along the way, I seem to have printed out the equivalent of three fulls of each! 😛

  2. I don’t know, maybe I haven’t acquired enough scraps of paper yet, but it would seem to me that scanning and pdf-ing would be a reasonable solution to some of your storage dilemma – mainly for keeping the good stuff. I save a lot of my scribbles (though I tend to work exclusively in electrons these days) and I have been known to go back and rework a thought or a failed poem. Everything is game for inspiration. Maybe it is different for fiction writers..Granted, I haven’t kept stuff I wrote 30 years ago…lonnnnng gone.

    • My current projects are mostly in pixels, John, so I agree with you about digitally storing the good stuff (or at least the most recent stuff), but I honestly haven’t so much as looked at most of it in decades.

      It isn’t inspiration as much as guilty ballast. time to drop it. 🙂

      I was hoping to find two poems I wrote in college, because I still want to know if they’re as good as my faulty memory insists they are (oh, the ones that got away!) but naturally, I didn’t. I’ll bet they’re on one of those floppies I can’t access. 😛

  3. Sarah, you brave, brave girl. I read this and thought you are the only one who like me hoards the past scraps, the lovely thoughts, the 10 page paper with one beautiful sentence. ..and now you’re crossing over to the other side??
    Okay, so the stuff you have already shredded, not the to-be pile, but the papers irreparably gone, do you feel a sense of relief, cleaning out the old that you’ve outgrown, or do you feel anxiety that it’s gone? Please tell me relief and hope for all of the wonderful future projects. It might give me courage.

    • I know, Lyra, I know.

      I thought I’d feel anxious about losing those few good bits with the awful, but I’ve saved the things I really love, so I mostly just feel sad that those shiny little scraps were never fleshed out and finished.

      Except I know I never would—acknowledging that was the tough part.

      And maybe the good lines will come back when I need them and the interesting concepts will tap me on the shoulder when/if I’m ready to write them the way they should be written—who knows?

      If I think of this as “extreme editing”, it’s not so bad. 🙂

      If I think of it as dumping half a pulped forest of guilt, it’s awesome. 😀

  4. But… those are your archives. The historical record of your writing (I almost typed writhing) history. Sigh. I really need to dredge out my house. Some day I will figure out how to better let go.

    • Writhing (in embarrassment) isn’t too far off the mark with some of this stuff, Dee! 🙂

      You and me, both. I want to follow the Organization rules that say if I haven’t used/remembered/thought about an item in five years, I need to pitch it, but I never do . .. I play way too much What If and I like surprises too much. 😀

  5. I still haven’t gotten over how my mother put almost all my early writing out at the curb for recycling when we left New York in August ’96. She claimed there wasn’t enough room in the moving truck, so out went all those picture books and novelettes I spent so many years lovingly creating. I did save some of my other books from the smaller recycle bin. She’s really not very sentimental. Some of my art projects went out in the trash/recycling not long after we got to Pennsylvania. At least I saved some of my early writing.

    • I defended my boxes from my husband, who didn’t value them beyond the space they “wasted” in hte garage.

      But that’s different than letting them go myself, because I don’t need their physical presence any more.

      Or so I’m telling myself . . . 🙂

Talk to me!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s