Last time, you remember, the refrigerator broke while I was trying to finish my manuscript. The new one is coming, allegedly, on Tuesday. This means taking all the refrigerator magnets, cartoons, comics, post cards, and appointment cards off the old one, and deciding what to dump and what to keep. As you are all aware, there are various approaching to dealing with accumulated stuff. We Wenches have been discussing privately our methods for organizing–or not–our pictures, and author groups often talk about what to do with old manuscripts, foreign editions, etc.
Organizing is a problem for a great many of us, authors or not. Whole shelves of bookstores are devoted to the topic. TV shows, e.g., Clean Sweep, entertain us with other peoples’ chaos. Excess stuff is a major problem in the U.S., much to the mystification of humans in less affluent/wasteful quarters of the globe.
A few years ago, inspired by What Not To Wear, I went through my closet and threw out almost everything: clothes that didn’t fit, clothes I’d been holding onto since college, even high school. The experience was liberating. Now, if I buy something new to wear, I get rid of something old. This rule is not hard to follow. Well, except for the shoes, but I’m working on that.
The rule definitely doesn’t work with books. And it doesn’t work well with papers–the volumes and volumes of manuscripts, business papers, and personal papers one accumulates, especially if one works from home, as I have done, at least part-time, since graduating from college.
Naturally, since I do work from home, my house contains more than the normal quantity of file cabinets, and I am a pretty good filer. The trouble is, those files go back as far as my old wardrobe. Every year, as I finish a manuscript, I resolve to (a) clean up the mess I’ve made in the throes of deadline and/or revisions and (b) go through at least one file drawer–or one box in the basement–and clear it out. Usually, I make a start at this project, and always, things get bogged down. It’s much harder to decide about papers, I find, than about clothes.
It is, at least, if you stop to think about it. I strongly suspect that many of those boxes in the basement do not require much thinking about. Do I need to keep my correspondence since the eighth grade, and all my early efforts at writing? There’s sentiment, yes. But when will I have time to sit down and muse over my younger self? Certainly I see no reason to keep it for posterity. Posterity will do just fine without my adolescent angst and ramblings. It’ll do fine, in fact, without anything that isn’t between book covers. The books represent the best of what I can do as a writer. The rest is…detritus, some of it downright embarrassing. The trouble is, getting rid of it isn’t as easy as it used to be.
In 1860, as Charles Dickens was starting GREAT EXPECTATIONS, and getting ready to move, he burned all his correspondence. Yes, all of it. Baskets and baskets of letters from famous literary figures and not so famous people and probably the butcher and baker and maybe even the lawyers. It all got dumped onto a big bonfire. I don’t know about your part of the world, but we haven’t been allowed to burn stuff in our yards in Massachusetts since the 1980s. This means that anyone with a concern for privacy has to put her papers through a shredder. The volume of papers I’m considering will want one of those giant shredders you park in the driveway. Otherwise, it could take months to get through the stuff. Maybe years.
Today, as I prepare to work on revisions that, it turns out, must be done at faster than warp speed, I’m thinking about Mary Jo’s comment to last Saturday’s post: “I look at the mess and think that it would really be easier to write another book.” It’s easier to do revisions, too. In fact, I’d rather write scripts about grinding wheels (as I once did, and actually enjoyed) than try to bring order to this chaos about me.
Today we ended up saving almost all of the refrigerator magnets, the various comics and cartoons I’d cut out, and post cards going back to the year we bought the house. One of these days, maybe, we’ll throw it all out. The mess in my office remains, but I’ve got revisions to do. Then I’m hoping to take a vacation. And when I get back, well, it’ll be time to start the next book.
Meanwhile, hope springs eternal that one of these days, I’ll unburden my life–or the basement at least–of the detritus. Any suggestions? How do you do it? Do you do it?