The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Archive for January 2018

Hello, Shredder

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I spent a few hours with an old friend a few weeks ago.  We’re both better off for the time together; him to keep his teeth sharp, and me to clear out my head and the papers that clutter my file cabinet and desk.

Shhhhh… he’s resting up for the next round of destruction.

This wasn’t some impulsive endeavor, though after pulling more staples than I could count, creating a mound of paper clips, and shredding 400-some papers of old drafts of stories and poems, I wish I had been impulsive about shredding a long time ago.  I thought for years that I was doing myself a favor by keeping all those old drafts around.  Never know when you’re going to get back to that half-ass poem you got into in the summer of ’11.  At some point I was going to find time to keep at the novella I started in ’13—why wouldn’t I?  I was already thirty pages in, and I knew where I wanted it to go.  Plus, I can’t tell you how many times I took something out of a poem or a story only to dig back through the drafts to find it again and put it back in (that actually happens sometimes, though not frequently).  I thought the preserved drafts were protecting my ego and proving to the unseen critic looming in the shadows that I work diligently on my writing, and therefore I deserve to be successful.  All the proof was right there in my file cabinet and on my desk and every other place I stashed an ungodly amount of papers.

Turns out most of those thoughts were pure bullshit.  The biggest things happening were that I was cluttering up space and stressing myself out over writing projects that I was never going to get back into.  I came to this conclusion in the waning days of The Writer’s Almanac last fall when I read a little bit about the novelist Andrea BarrettTWA liked to recognize her birthday each year, and I always paid attention since I have met and worked with Andrea and respect her writerly insights.  Here’s what she said about the best writing advice she ever got (this originally appeared in The American Scholar):

“…(it) was extremely simple, initially devastating but actually incredibly kind, liberating, and utterly transformative…  After workshopping my story, Nicholas Delbanco asked me if I’d written anything else and offered to read it…  (he) read my grubby pages, promptly met with me to discuss them, and gently let me know that the novel on which I’d spent so long was rubbish…  the kernel of his advice was simple: Throw it out, and move on. Take all you learned writing that and make something new. Afterwards I cried, I fussed, I crashed around—and then I did what he said. What a huge relief to shed those mauled and tortured pages! And how quickly, freed from them, did I begin to write again.  That advice made me a writer: both in the specific moment and since then as a guiding principle. I throw out things all the time, still; sometimes things on which I have, as I did with that first novel, spent not only months but years. What’s important, what the attempt taught me about writing, the material I’m exploring, where I want to go next, always survives.”

I got to thinking about the reams of old stuff lying around The Seeker luxury headquarters, thought about what I’ve been writing a lot of lately (flash fiction and poetry), and thought of Google Drive.  Everything that was worth anything, and anything that I would ever get back to, was right there.  If I wanted to flash back to stuff I’d edited, I could always go to “revision history.”  So when I got some time near the end of my holiday break, I said “Hello, Shredder,” and fed him so much paper that he overheated and locked up a few times.

I can’t say I shredded everything.  I didn’t.  I have the entire writing process to several pieces that I’ve gotten published, and I keep those for the sake of my Creative Writing students.  I bring them in sometimes to show what it took to get something published, and that usually soothes their jangled nerves about rewrites and reminds them that I’m on their side with making draft after draft after draft (after draft!) of a piece until it speaks effectively.  Also, I can’t say I feel miraculously un-constipated.  I do, somewhat, but I feel more euphoric than anything.  I trust myself.  I have learned a helluva lot about writing, and it’s evident in my cognitive processes as I write.  I don’t need all the evidence sitting around my office practically glaring at me and guilt-tripping me into working on it.  The evidence will appear with the next thing I write.

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Written by seeker70

January 22, 2018 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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