What We Keep, What We Throw Away

In January 2012, I wrote a post for this blog wondering if this would be the year I finally cleaned my office.

As I suspected at the time, I’m still cleaning it, going through files and papers, tossing and sorting.

Making slow progress, emphasis on slow. But progress nonetheless. Once again the Friends of the Library book sale benefits from my periodic forays through the bookshelves.

In some respects, parting with books is easier that going through the accumulated paper.

In the earlier blog post, I mentioned keeping letters, and how glad I was that I have a packet of letters written by my long-departed grandmother. Now I rarely get letters, in this era of e-mail communication. I get e-mails, and periodically I go through and delete those.

I read an article recently that talked about how much electronic data people have stored up there in the cloud, the 21st century equivalent of the storage locker.

That got me to thinking about my writing process. Used to be I’d print out the book as I wrote it. The journey of writing my most recent published book, What You Wish For, was long, with many twists and turns and revisions. As a result, I have multiple versions of the book, enough to fill a couple of banker’s boxes. Those versions are also on the computer. Now that the book is in print, it’s time for those papers to go, so I can free up some space in the closet.

I’ve noticed that I no longer print out the books as I go. Where I used to edit and revise with a pile of manuscript pages and a pencil, I’m doing it on the computer. The pile of paper for Bit Player and the recently completed Death Rides The Zephyr is much smaller, although the latter, the train book, has a file box of research material accompanying the manuscript.

The impetus for this most recent spurt of decluttering, in addition to freeing up some real estate in my office, is a yearly trip, with a friend, to the commercial shredder. Together we collect our boxes of paper and haul them to the place with the industrial-strength machines that will chew up old tax records, statements from various accounts, and other things I wouldn’t want to toss in the recycle bin.

Much of the paper I used to receive now comes to me electronically. My bank statement is posted online. I access it by logging onto my account and then I print it out to reconcile it. The bills come via e-mail notification and the money is drawn automatically from my account. I deposit checks by endorsing them, then photographing them with my smart phone. All of this is convenient, but it still clutters up that data cloud I mentioned.

Then there’s clutter of another sort. Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads – and blogs. Keeping up with all of this eats up time, a precious commodity that would be better spent writing the next book. But the marketing aspect of writing has always been a double-edged sword. We write the books and then we must let people know the books are out there.

I find as I get older I’m saying “no” more often.

Enough rumination. Back to my piles of paper, deciding what to keep and what to throw away.


3 Responses

  1. True and thought-provoking. With electronic storage, I went through five word processors and three forms of storage (anybody want to buy a floppy disc?). When I came to sending my oldest books off to be reissued in e-book format, the floppies were inaccessible and poor storage ruined some of the small discs, so I wound up scanning the paper manuscripts. That’s not fun. I recommend “translating” old material when a new word-processor comes along and also transferring electronic manuscripts to whatever your latest storage method may be.

    • Sheila, I went through the same thing doing the e-book dance. Those old floppies were useless. Besides, the novels that ultimately saw print were edited and different from what was on the floppies. So I, too, went the scanning route. Did you know a speck of dirt on paper will affect the scanner? Yes, your recommendation is good. Redundant backups and updates.

  2. All of this boggles my mind. I still receive my bank statements by snail mail because I spend so much time on list servs, blogs, et al. that I just want to run away from the computer. Since I bought my first compuer in 1986, I’ve saved all my floppy discs–why? Just in case. For the same reason that St Martin’s didn’t want to give me my rights back–in case they might do something electronic with my backlist. In case, in case…too little time for it these days. I’m now thinking of taking the whole to the local transfer station. Anyway, a thoughtful blog, Janet.

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