Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bye-Bye Miss American Pie

Sharon Wildwind

Looks pretty innocent, don’t they? Four plain cardboard boxes that resemble small coffins.In a sense, that’s what they are.

I’m going to bury the past. Going to shred the past is more accurate. Those four boxes are on their way out to a commercial shredder; those four boxes contain 20 years of writing.

This past week I went through every folder in my sacred writing space. Isn’t that a nice term? I found it in a magazine article about creating a work space. Going through mounds of old paper was anything but sacred. It required old clothes, a vacuum cleaner, and lots of band-aids. Did you know that old papers seem to give you worse paper cuts than new ones? Or maybe they sensed what was in store for them and were having a bit of revenge.

In any case, I’ve tossed the contents of four filing drawers and six plastic file boxes. Okay, I know someone out there is having heart palpitations. Their fingers are scrambling to get inside those four boxes and save me from myself, just in case I’ve thrown out good writing that should be saved.

Relax, take a deep breath, and have a cup of tea. No useful writing has been or will be destroyed. What you’re looking at are duplicates, in one case 16 copies of the same chapter, written over and over again until I was satisfied with it.

But what about historical value, you wail? What about the PhD thesis waiting to be written about your work long after you’re gone? Wouldn’t those 16 copies be a gold-mine for that graduate student, a marker of how you tweaked a comma here, substituted a word there, and finally created your deathless prose?

In a word, no.

First, the possibility that I’ll ever the subject of a PhD thesis–other than perhaps by one of my great-nieces, writing about the odd people in her family–approaches zero. Second, I have electronic copies. Granted, much of them are in out-dated disc formats, for which I no longer have a reader, but finding a reader and working out how to recover material from late 20th century technology will be the graduate student’s problem . . .assuming there is a graduate student. Third, and most important, take a look behind the boxes.

This is one small part of my living room cum atelier cum writing studio. This is where it happens and I needed to clean out the dead space to make way for the living. More books on the craft of writing, more space to store the copies of books I’d already written, more work space, more creative space.

Once in a while we, as writers, need to pay attention to what a wonderful, energetic business we are engaged in. Our work isn’t about old files; it’s about new ideas. We don’t preserve for posterity, we create for the future. And if a bunch of old papers was holding me back, which it was, then those old papers are going to be much better off being recycled into something else. Maybe some of them will eventually come back to me as clean sheets of paper, ready for another trip through the printer.

At least I figure that's the way to bet.

Writing quote for the week.

You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget that errand. ~Woodrow Wilson, U.S. president and supporter of the League of Nations


Julia Buckley said...

Wow, I LOVE that final quote! And I admire you for putting things in order and sloughing off the old.

I just organized a drawer and was proud of myself for DAYS.

Sandra Parshall said...

Sharon, I've been doing much the same thing -- but it's taking me a heck of a lot longer than a week. I've tossed out countless marked-up printouts of chapters of the book I most recently finished, but I still have too much stuff crammed into drawers, so it's time to do some weeding there too. All of this activity, of course, is a way to put off plunging into the NEXT book.

Anonymous said...

Oh, ouch, no! Please! Send those papers to me so I can use the blank back side for my first drafts! No paper ever gets shredded in my office unless both sides are used.

But yes, it's a fabulous feeling to clear out our sacred writing spaces. For me, it's equivalent to clearing out my mind before beginning a new book.

Anonymous said...

Hey, maybe we have a movement here to get a new creative energy flow going. Keep those drawers and file cabinets going.

Relax, c. c. The pages on their way to shredding have already been printed on both sides. It's what we do at our house, too.