A Writer’s Recycling Conundrum

Pexels photo by C. Technical

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to downsizing my home this week. It’s probably because we’re in a hot housing market in our area and three houses on our street are suddenly on the market, one having sold in a matter of days, above asking price, which is a common occurrence right now. Since we’re planning to downsize and move in two years anyway, should we step up our plan? This leads to a more immediate issue. How do I begin to sort and recycle over thirty plus years of paper in my home office?

I’ve been writing since the early 80’s. During my first fifteen years, it was all about submitting short stories, personal essays, and articles in paper form, complete with a self-addressed stamped envelope for an editor’s response. I still have tons of correspondence from those days.

I keep our family’s household records in another filing cabinet, but I’ve been much better at shredding and recycling those. Canada Revenue Agency only requires folks to keep records dating back seven years. So, why haven’t I done the same with my writing files?

Two reasons, I think. One is that I have an emotional attachment to my writing things. All that correspondence, all the paper drafts and final drafts of stories, and all of the notes represent four decades of work. Tossing it away seems counterintuitive. On the other hand, everything I’ve written is on the computer and backed up on flash drives.

The other reason is one of habit. For many years, I’ve printed out a final draft of a book, blog, or review, though I’ve now stopped doing so for blogs and reviews. It took a conscious effort and some resolve to break an old habit.

I have two scrapbooks filled with memories about fun book launches, writing events, and reviews of my work. I also keep a binder containing my publication credits, publishing stats, income and expenditures, and so forth. Maybe that’s more than enough of a physical reminder of those decades, and I should just let the rest go.

I’ve managed to sort and recycle a few things. In a blog last year, I mentioned that I cleared off unnecessary information from my two bulletin boards and I’ve managed to keep them clear. I also went through my collection of articles on writing and began organizing them into binders. I’ve found that it’s a 50/50 mix about whether I look something up in a digital folder or a paper one.

I’ve also renewed efforts to pare down my book collection. Last weekend, I began filling a box of books to give away, but it’s part of a larger downsizing and spring cleaning project that will also involve dozens of cookbooks I haven’t used in years. Sorting and recycling all of my cupboards could take a while and I expect I’ll need to set up a schedule.

For you writers who’ve built quite a collection of notes, drafts, correspondence, and such, what do you do with all of that material? To you keep it in boxes and binders? Is it organized? Or do you recycle almost everything and rely on digital backups?

Author: debrapurdykong

I'm a British Columbia author who's been writing for over 30 years. My volunteer experiences, criminology diploma, and various jobs, inspired me to write mysteries set in BC’s Lower Mainland. Employment as a campus security patrol and communications officer provide the background for my my Casey Holland transit security novels. I'm also a part-time facilitator in Creative Writing Workshops through Port Moody's Recreation program. Feel free to contact me at dpurdykong@gmail.com

21 thoughts on “A Writer’s Recycling Conundrum”

  1. Happily, I downsized the paper stuff years ago. I recycled all the old drafts and now, buy a print book from Amazon and call that the print backup.

    You’ll have to shred it probably. You can hire someone to scan it all in but from the sounds of it, that would be expensive and daunting!

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  2. There are a lot of people who are downsizing or relocating to take advantage of the hot lower mainland market and working from home. Downsizing is daunting and I think you have to be brutally honest with yourself to accomplish it. Maybe you could temporarily store stuff “in purgatory” trash – if not rescued in 8 months, it goes down!

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  3. I’ve got a couple of boxes in the crawlspace of the old printed draft or beta copies of my books. In all these years, I’ve never (not once) referred to them. They’ll be shredded in my next big dung out – probably this summer. Good luck with the downsizing!

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    1. Thanks, Jo-Anne, and you raise a good point. I need to really think about whether I’m ever going to need or want to refer to those papers again. Looks like sorting will require as much thinking as anything.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I kept all my tearsheets from non-digital days of freelance writing. They are in six big binders along with all my online published articles (printed out). I kept the final printed ms of Periscope and the proposal (pre-dig) in two binders and the rest of my other three book’s mss I put in the cloud. Non-work books were severely culled; those I kept were reference books and old friends I couldn’t part with. There were not many.

    I only keep printed financial records for seven years. I put my pre-dig BLS spreadsheets in the cloud from about 1980 (they were previously converted and put on an external HD) and the rest are kept in the cloud.

    All my P’Point presentations are in the cloud and the notes for workshops and speeches are printed and in binders.

    My books I bought for research all went to the Naval Archives in ONT as did all my textual and visual records. My bishops’ stuff all went to the diocesan archives.

    My own images are all in the cloud from 1999 when I bought my first digital camera. The rest I kept in their albums.

    Moves are priced by weight and paper is heavy. Cheaper to pay for a good cloud service that does not keep your files on your internal hard drive like Dropbox and Google Drive do. I needed the storage space. My 40K images take up 2Tb alone.

    I hope that helps.

    I wish you much speed and good fortune — it’s one hell of a job!

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  5. I did see the tail end of the ‘submitting by paper’ era, but thankfully, things were mostly digital by the time I officially started writing for a living a decade ago. I can’t imagine having to throw away all your work—or even backing up all your documents through scanning—so I can only sympathise with you here. Wishing you all the best with your plans either way!

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    1. I’ve felt that way for years, KC, which is why I’ve always kept a final draft of all my books and stories, etc. I’m working on books 11 and 12 now, so the paper’s piling up 🙂

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  6. When we moved to Spain, 6 years ago. I had to get rid of 75% of my stuff. It was a huge undertaking. I would bring a box of books to work with a sign Help Yourself and left it in the lunchroom. By time to go home, it was always empty. I also donated about a dozen boxes full to The Kinsmen book sale in Tsawwassen. I got rid of so much paperwork too. Recycled most, shredded personal stuff. I had stopped printing out things a few years earlier but there was still lots. You know, I have never missed any of it. Good luck. You will be glad you did it.

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    1. That’s really helpful, Darlene because one of the things in the back of my mind is will I come to regret this 5 or 10 years down the road? Will I wish that I’d kept those final hard copies?

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  7. How many fiction books do we actually reread? The one or two I’ve read twice, I haven’t enjoyed as much as the first read, so all read fiction I now give away. I only keep research books until (hopefully) my manuscript is published. Important handouts/articles I’ve received go in a scrapbook. But it’s not just a writing hoard that needs to be sifted through, it’s the kitchen. Ask, what am I actually using? The same goes for clothes. I hook hangers backwards and once I wear items, the hanger goes forwards. That way I can see over a season what I’m not wearing. It’s important to get rid of as much as possible before downsizing because there won’t be room in a smaller place. Plus a garage sale is a great way to let people pay you to take away what you don’t want any more.

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    1. I hadn’t thought of a garage sale, but that’s a great idea once COVID is over. At the moment, we’re preparing a pile of very old, broken things we’ll have the Junk guys come and pick up. I also have a lot of my mom’s stuff, some of which my son will take when he moves out, some of which I’m using, and other stuff will have to be recycled or tossed.

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  8. Debra, there is such an emotional attachment to one’s personal work that is just not present with bank statements/bills etc! An interesting post and one that gives me a nudge to some paper-housekeeping!

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