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?

When You Find a Good How-To Book

Manuscript MakeoverIn my quest to read more nonfiction and improve my writing skills, I picked up a book that was recommended to me several years ago. It was a good decision. Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyon is one of the best how-to books on editing I’ve read in a while.

One of the great things I’ve found about how-to books is that they trigger ideas for improving my plots, characters, settings, and so forth. It happened several times throughout this book, which has caused me to go back and make key changes to the second draft of the urban fantasy I’m working on.

Now I find myself with three sets of notes to type up. One for the book review I’ll post. The second is a quick summary of editing tips I specifically need to address in all of my manuscripts. The third is to incorporate all of those notes I scribbled down about the urban fantasy.

The last section is entitled ‘Marketing’, but it’s not about promoting and increasing visibility. It’s about properly preparing your manuscript to submit to publishers. Lyon offers some really great tips on writing query letters and a synopsis. If you’re a fiction writer, I strongly encourage you to read this book. With any luck, new ideas will spring up for your work.