Should I Really Save Everything I Write?

Sunday, April 28, 2019
Not too long ago, I was going through my notebooks from high school and early college years. Each one was filled with partially finished stories, snippets of character sheets, and scenes without a story attached to them. After finding them and briefly contemplating keeping these notebooks, I threw them away - well most of them at least - and I even blogged about it (twice).

It felt freeing. It was part of my new journey with writing and I was proud to take that first step. Recently though, I came across an article by a writing blog I follow called The Write Practice that encouraged its readers to save everything they write. This may not be the best idea if you handwrite like I did for so many years. However, it made me think, should I have saved these old notebooks?

With that in mind, I can't help but think about a story scene that didn't have a home. I had edited this scene out of a short story I had written, and one day, I recalled a DIFFERENT scene I had written YEARS ago. That one didn't have a home either but I loved it and kept it. So, I decided to find this story scene from years ago to join it together with my new lonely story scene. Unfortunately, I couldn't find it. When I didn't see it in my notebooks (at least, the ones I didn't throw away), I realized I probably threw it out.

Should I have kept these notebooks? With my latest experience in mind, I thought for a moment I should have kept them. However, I recall reading online somewhere that the unfinished stories we write are often our attempts at telling a certain KIND of story that didn't work out. Often, we attempt telling it again but in a different way. So, while I have an untethered story scene without a home, the best I can do is keep it in the draft file in my mind for another inspirational moment or maybe I can recreate the scene I threw away.

Should you keep everything you write, just in case? No. I mean, sure, I believe in keeping some things, especially since your own writing can be incredibly inspiring. I think after a while though some stories should be archived, so we avoid becoming packrats and over-obsessing about days of writing past. That in and of itself can be a wormhole to avoid growing and moving on in our own writing.

So if you are hesitant about archiving, deleting or throwing away stories because you feel like you'll need these story scraps, all I can say is likely this story will come to you again. It just may not look the same way it did before.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Nicole--Thinking about some of the angst-filled writing I did when I was younger... and still having it around--made me cringe.

However, there's one free verse poem I wrote when I was a senior in high that people were blown away by. And it's gone forever, I'm afraid.

One simple way to archive them is via LiveBinder. They're free, and are digital "binders" that you can make tabs for, such as "Angsty Teen Writing" and "Crap Writing I Thought Was Good But Really Stinks" and "Unsent Hate Letters to Agents Who Rejected Me."

I agree. If we don't have the writing piece anymore, we can recreate it... but it WILL be different (and perhaps better).

Great post, Nicole, and perhaps I will resurface today or tomorrow and report my (lack of) progress as a Butt-Kicker... since I've been MIA for a while...

Angela Mackintosh said...

I wrote an essay recently and frantically saved every change in a draft folder. I had 31 drafts! Because I cut 4k off the essay, so each draft was another cut and tailor. Now I'm looking at that folder with all those drafts, which I'd numbered 1, 2, 3 ... and thinking, dang, do I just throw all this away and save the final version? But then my workshop group had questions, so I need to weave some of those pieces back in. Ah, the writer's life. Lol. I don't write by hand so it's much easier for me to save my work digitally. However, I rarely look back at anything and then forget it's even there or that I wrote it.

I agree with both you and Sioux when you said that you could rewrite the story but it would be different. I actually did that, ten or more years later, and then, after I wrote it, I remembered I had a draft of it on my old computer. So I pulled the computer out of the closet and fired it up, found the draft, and it was nearly the same! BUT the older version was much more raw, edgy, and unrefined, which made it better, in my opinion. My new piece was too tidy, relied heavily on beautiful prose rather than heartfelt emotion. So I rewrote it to match the old version and combined the best from both! It's helpful to save your work to see how you've grown as a writer, for better or worse.

Nicole Pyles said...

Sioux, I've never heard of live binder! Good idea actually. Ha, I love your folder ideas by the way. Your comment about poetry from high school remnided me of an impromptu piece I wrote when I was a senior (or was I junior?) anyways, a friend complimented, I think I gave it to her, assuming I had a copy and then remembered it years later and couldn't find it. So tormenting when that happens. Looking forward to seeing your update!

Ha, Angela your comment about 31 drafts is totally something I would do!! I've done that myself before (cut out and pasted deleted scenes into new documents) and done several versions of a draft. I'm glad I got away from writing by hand, my lack of damage to trees is good plus I think my writing is better. But actually you're right - I don't think I ever look back on digitally written work like I do with handwritten notebooks. I love how you combined both versions of your work actually! What an incredible experience that must've been!

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