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This Writing Life: The Detritus of Writing

3 June, 2013

Here at Chez Moi, my partner and I are getting ready to move. There’s been DIY aplenty, boxes everywhere, and a lot of stuff going straight into the bin. It’s when I’m moving house, or even just rearranging my office, that I realise just how much stuff I’ve accumulated – and how much of it relates to writing.

You see, I’ve long since learnt not to throw anything writing-related away. Corrupted files and lost novel plans have taught me just how frustrating – and occasionally devastating – it can be to suddenly find that piece of work you were looking for just isn’t there any more. As a result, I tend to keep everything, and when you’ve been writing for more than ten years, that really is a lot of stuff.

There are huge numbers of files on my PC, of course, but most of my planning takes place on paper, which means I have folder after folder, notebook after notebook, of notes and scribbles and first drafts. Flicking through some of these notes in the past couple of days, I was astonished to find entire novel ideas I simply don’t remember writing, sometimes with a considerable number of words attached to them before I gave up and moved onto something else. I’m amazed both at how productive I’ve been over the years in honing my writing, and at the possibility that any writer can ever complain about ‘running out of ideas’.

Is any of this stuff usable? As you might guess from the word ‘detritus’ in the title: mostly not. However, as I mentioned above, I’m loathe to throw anything away, just in case. My entire history as a writer in encapsulated in these fragments, ever since my teenage years. Unless I achieve more than moderate success in publishing, none of this material is ever going to be of interest to anyone but myself; I also wonder, sometimes, how much of this stuff I would want anyone else to see, at least until I’m not longer around to be embarrassed by it.

So, my scribbles will keep building up, forgotten and mostly useless as anything more than a learning process – though the weight of so much material, and how much I’ve already achieved, is comforting in itself. Still, I do find myself wondering, if I keep writing until I’m 80, just how many more notebooks and files I’ll have managed to accumulate!


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