Once upon a time, there was an author who found an old manuscript in her attic that she had written years ago. She published it. Lo and behold, it became an instant bestseller.
Yeah, that’s not me.
I’ve always loved to write, and years ago, I put together a binder of a variety of essays, poems, and short stories. Then after a few moves, I lost track of it. I somehow got it in my head that this missing binder held treasures that, with a little polish, might be publishable. My sweet husband braved our attic and returned with the holy grail. I excitedly opened up the binder and started reading only to discover very quickly that it was not as I expected. There were no forgotten literary treasures. In fact, it all stunk!
Had I ever been that bad of a writer? Apparently, yes! It honestly threw me off a bit because remembered writing some of those stories, but I had thought they were good! My only consolation was that at least I can recognize it as bad. I can easily identify the problems and know exactly how to avoid such mistakes again.
So now I’m faced with the question, what am I to do with all this bad writing that I don’t even want to claim. While the easiest answer would be to burn it, I can’t do that. Besides it being bad for the environment J , I am too sentimental to destroy all of what essentially traces my history as a writer. As I see it, I have a few options. In my mind, old writing can fall into a few categories:
Yes, regardless of sentiment, some of it should probably be burned or sent to the can of no return. Especially when you’re young, you have a tendency to write things you don’t really mean. I would feel pretty bad if some of my old teenaged journals were read by someone who didn’t understand that. However, if I ever come across some of those, I don’t know if I’ll have the courage to throw them away. There is almost something sacred to me about writing and the effort behind it. But, I will definitely put a Mr. Yuck sticker on them with a disclaimer that says this is trash-worthy material.
Most of the writing in my special binder probably belongs in a box of mementos. Nobody but me would see any value or have any attachment to it, but I probably can’t bear to part with it. It’s not usable in the form it is, and the idea behind it isn’t worth the effort it would take to revise to make it successful. I am a big believer that you can take just about any idea and make it into a fantastic, believable story as long as it is well-written. But I have no shortage of good ideas, and it would be easier for me to start completely over rather than try to salvage something that belongs as a snapshot of the past.
There is only one story in my binder that I would consider ‘wrapping paper.’ The idea is good; the execution is not. If I took the idea, started completely over, and didn’t use any of the phrases from the original, I might be able to salvage it into a good story or novel. My old idea would be the wrapping paper for the new one. However, like I mentioned earlier, I have no shortage of stories and books in my ‘to-be-written pile,’ so while this old story may find a home in that pile as well, I’m not completely sure I’ll ever write it.
It would have been nice to find some treasure in my old binder. It would have probably energized me and renewed my faith in my own abilities, but there was none there. A treasure would have been finding a piece of writing that, with a minimal amount of polish, could be considered publishable material. Perhaps someday I will find a literary treasure. (I have plenty of other notebooks lying around completely full of ideas.) But, honestly, I rather doubt it.
Writing is apparently a continuum. What I wrote ten years ago would not be what I would write today. In fact, what I wrote yesterday would probably not be what I would write today either. Style, ability, technique, taste—everything changes. I’m not the same person I was then, so why should I expect my writing to be the same? I know that some authors may discover their treasures from long-ago artifacts. While most of my old writing may be best fit for the trash can, my newer writing is not. I guess all my treasures are to be sparkly new, and I’m okay with that.