Friday, February 4, 2011


by Sheila Connolly

I've been following through on my New Year's resolution to get better organized (I'll wait while you applaud). The most tangible evidence of this is the reduction of the number of bankers boxes labeled "Miscellaneous" that have been cluttering our laughingly labeled office.

A couple of the boxes contain financial and tax information, so I can be excused for hanging on to those. A couple more contain drafts of my books--sometimes more than one draft per book. What I think I'm ever going to do with these I do not know. I seem to be saving them so that I can point out to my editor that several copy editors seems to have contradicted themselves and each other on more than one occasion. I firmly believe they do it just to drive us nuts. Every time I think I've mastered a rule of punctuation or capitalization, they change it again.

All right, someday I'll have a nice ceremonial bonfire of all those defunct manuscripts, but at least they're tidy and labeled. What I find hardest to deal with is the truly miscellaneous items: newspaper clippings that look interesting or may relate very distantly to something that I'm curious about (and may want to use in a book someday); book reviews of books I might like to read someday; email correspondence from friends, acquaintances, and strangers; and a lot of printouts about all aspects of publishing, from writing a book through sending a query through promoting yourself and your book to reading a royalty statement.

These last make up the largest component of my multiple miscellany boxes, but I have to say that going through them has been like conducting my own personal archeology. My first observation: wow, I've learned a lot! My second: how outdated some of these sound now, and how quickly the publishing business has changed! I'm talking five years or less since I got serious about writing and started collecting information I thought would be helpful to me eventually. Mostly I clipped it or printed it out and stuck it in one of those boxes, and now here I am marveling at how useless that information really is.

It's both fun and sad to read comments and recommendations from people I didn't know then but I now count as friends. It's like we all grew up together. It's amusing to see the excitement at wonderful new means of communicating, like GoodReads and MySpace. It's hard to recall that there was no Facebook then, at least for the post-college crowd. It does give me some perspective: in hindsight I can watch the writers stampede from one "hot new thing" to the next. Now we know there's always going to be something else new right around the corner.

I've found a few treasures too. Like the obituary of the 103-year-old man named Nelson McNutt (really) who made a pass at me--a memory I treasure. Mixed in among the business items are things like my daughter's last high school report card (boy, did she slack off the last semester of her senior year!), and a twenty-year-old Christmas card from my late father, who for years worked with a local printer to design completely wacky and idiosyncratic cards that the 800 people on his mailing list looked forward to each year. They're a little hard to explain, but suffice it to say they involved golf, gophers and synthetic plaid fabrics.

Sometimes I like to imagine some dedicated biographer looking at the gems I have saved and arriving at piercing insights as to my character and the brilliance of my prose. I lump with that my off-the-wall idea of writing a biography of my grandmother (who lived a very interesting life) based solely on her checkbooks--hich of course I still have in the attic (I have every canceled check I ever wrote too).

I have filled two bankers boxes with paper to be recycled--proof that it is possible to get rid of those things that have outlived their usefulness. Unfortunately I've still got a lot left, but I'm working on it. Please cheer for me.
To be recycled!


Barb Goffman said...

Sheila, when you're done at your house, feel free to come to mine. I have a treasure trove of ... probably useless papers I can't bear to go through.

Victoria said...

Oh, my goodness... thank you for brightening my day! I don't feel so bad anymore about my measly two or three bankers' boxes of crap and the stack of papers and files (now falling over) beside my desk. LOL.

I too, started the year with the intention of 'getting organized' but work always gets in the way. And I'd rather be writing than organizing anyway, which explains a lot.

Julia Buckley said...

Great job! I dread organizing, but when I do it I find it hugely satisfying, and I enjoy spending time in a newly-cleaned office.

Sheila Connolly said...

I know--maybe we could all swap papers. There must be some great story ideas buried in there somewhere.

Does anyone know if I can shred this stuff and use it for mulch?

Anonymous said...

No bonfires please! Some library archivist will want those various forms of your manuscripts to study the development of your novels and your writing style!!!!!!