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I’m writing my second novel by hand. In pencil, in large sketch notebooks with no lines. Or, for another part, in purple ink on letterpress-worthy paper, torn, folded, and stacked into signatures with my own little hands. When the book decided—yes, you read that correctly—that’s how it wished to be done, I balked. Seriously? With the glorious technology now available? I’m grateful it didn’t require me to use the pen and ink set I have stored in my credenza.

Yet before it made that assertion, I was writing notes by hand. In pencil, standard graphite as well as colored, for variety and emphasis. The official notebook launched October 23, 2006. It includes snippets and quotes from round after round of research, idea after idea that popped into my head, and copious ramblings, fits, furies, and epiphanies. To date, it exceeds 1,000 pages.

archive #2 crop

If I ever became famous, or well-regarded, that mother lode might be valuable, especially in the increasingly intangible digital world.

With arrogant hope, I thought about my literary legacy as I wrote my first novel. The meticulous record keeping reflected my own orderly nature, but I had the future in mind as well. What if I “make it?” What if a future scholar would become apoplectic with glee to pore over the minutiae of how Draft 1 evolved into its final form? Perhaps the notes I took from an interview with a 100-year-old female physician gives unexpected insight into a certain character. And what about the somewhat detailed floor plan of the house of one of the couples?

I wrote the first novel on a computer, but all of my notes are handwritten. Everything, from the notes to printed research material, is stored in one box in my closet labeled with the novel’s title and the word “Archive.”

“Archive” is an important distinction. In my last will and testament—drafted during a period of attention to adult matters—I specifically state that “my literary papers (i.e., stories, novels, notes and correspondence)” are bequeathed to my alma mater for the library’s special collection. However, “any and all personal journals of mine (which have been collected in a box and designated as such) shall be destroyed as soon as possible upon my death.”

Yet I’ve already begun the process to expunge my own collection.

In the summer of 2007, I embarked on a major closet cleaning, beyond old clothes and accumulations. I sorted three boxes which held the writings I’d done since I was a child. Duplicates were tossed, along with early drafts. I stacked what was left in date order and put them in one tidy narrow box. Of my personal letters, I kept what had sentimental meaning and marked those for archives.

As for my journals, of which there were fewer than one might expect, I read through them, observing my rather mundane life and its paucity of scandal and intrigue. Then I summarized the main points in a new journal, kept a few pages from the primary sources, and burned the rest.

I loved the burning. It was so primal.

What? I shouldn’t have done that?

Then, in the summer of 2009, in yet another flurry of research for Novel #2, I read a compelling biography about Virginia Woolf. Her work, and Woolf herself, had nothing to do with my novel—but I felt drawn to it anyway. (Novel #2 and its spooky synchronicity…) What disturbed me was the pointed inclusion that her family had not, repeat had not, honored her wish that her personal papers be destroyed after her death. She did not leave a clear legal will on this matter, but the last line of her suicide note read, “Will you destroy all my papers.” [sic]*

This little detail, an act of betrayal as I saw it, was the hidden reason I had to read the book. It connects to a small incident in Novel #2, one I’ve yet to reconcile. But there was a personal consideration as well.

I have to confess: I am one of those people who loves to read about long-lost and discovered diaries, letters, and manuscripts. Oooh, a treasure! I think—even if I don’t have interest in the person who left it behind. That such things warrant news coverage suggests that people are a curious bunch of voyeurs. We value whatever insight or significance we think the artifact might yield.

After reading the Woolf biography, I contemplated more seriously what I would leave behind—and why. I questioned the point of keeping records of my private thoughts since I wanted them destroyed anyway. It’s helpful to have them as a backup of memory, what happened when. I doubt I’ll ever write a memoir, but if I did, that’s the material I’d mine.

As for clumsy drafts and notes, they reveal an evolving process of both the works themselves and my development as a writer. Even I can see that, especially when I dared to skim some of what I wrote as a teenager. But I doubt I’ll ever sit down to read all those old short stories, poems, and plays. Short of the laughs, it could be excruciating.

I will never read the first draft, nor the second, or the third of my first novel again. These hundreds of pages are taking up space in a box in a closet, as well as about two megs on my computer’s hard drive. I’ve referred to the notes once or twice to find the titles of books I read for research, but for no other reason. Still, I treat the contents with respect. I know exactly where they are in case of a fire.

The second novel’s archives are even more copious and complicated. This novel had an earlier incarnation as a near book-length prose meandering, rightly abandoned more than 12 years ago. It’s the stuff of a scholar’s dream—the inchoate seed from which a mature work sprung, or at least is about to spring. The handwritten spew of one of the sections reads like psychotic ramblings with no sense of time or order. The handwritten prose of another suggests the writer might know what she’s doing. The notes show the progression of what will be an epic work. The draft-in-progress is typed and electronically archived, so losing the paper originals would not be a disaster.

Every few weeks, I edit through the typed pages of Novel #2 and stack them in my office. Then once the pile is hefty enough, I burn the printed pages in my fireplace. I love the flash of white flame when the torn shreds take at once. Clutter gone, effort transmuted.

fire

Because most of the work on Novel #2 has been especially unpleasant, I have a recurring fantasy of burning its pulpy corpus on an outdoor pyre right before it’s published. Every single handwritten and typed page. Throw in a nice full moon for effect, and of course, a libation. It’s destined to be read, in more instances than not, in digital form (an affront to a theme in the narrative, but I digress)—so why does physical proof of its creation matter?

Why don’t I burn it up as I go? Why don’t I burn the entirety of my archives now?

I don’t know.

I’ve wondered about Woolf’s awareness in her last days and hours. Her death was not sudden. She could have destroyed her papers first, or at any point long before her desperation became too much. Surely, she had a sense of her legacy and what her papers would mean to studious inquirers. Perhaps in those surviving records, Woof herself expressed ambivalence about their destruction.

No doubt I harbor some delusion, vanity, or hope that my work will be deemed worthy of study one day. If that’s the case, I understand there’s an expectation to play nice and leave something for someone to discover in a box after I’m dead. But right now, I’m the author of one published book, one in progress, and five in concept. There’s a big gap of so-what-and-who-cares between now and the spread of my own remains.

I suppose I cling to the materials—even as I question the clinging—because of its tangibility. It’s physical. My creation. Consider that a writer’s lifelong collection of effort is called a body of work. If so, an essay might be a fingertip; a book, the meat of a thigh. Those things that have no form—ideas, feelings, thoughts—incarnate as words on a page. For me, paper is matrix, binding those words together.

As technology shifts our relationship to the written word, what future is there for what is actually written? Typed pages covered in arrows and the author’s scrawls. A hasty note tossed in a box. A handwritten letter. An autograph. These things are treasures and commodities now. Imagine the frenzy of collectors and scholars who one day may want to touch what a certain writer touched—you, me, someone else. Nostalgia for what is dying must motivate me as well, a desire to preserve relics.

My last will and testament remains unchanged, but what I’ll do with my archive while I’m still alive remains unsettled. One day, I or Disaster might destroy it all, lightening my earthly load and limiting what insight friends, family, readers, or scholars might have into what I created. This may not be much of a loss.

If I do my job as a writer, I will leave a body of work that speaks for itself.

 

*Noted in Granite and Rainbow: The Hidden Life of Virginia Woolf by Mitchell Leaska. NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1998.


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Ronlyn Domingue Ronlyn Domingue is the author of The Mapmaker's War (Atria Books, 2013). Its sequel, The Chronicle of Secret Riven, is forthcoming in 2014. Her critically acclaimed debut novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, was published in ten languages. Her writing has appeared in The Beautiful Anthology (TNB Books), New England Review, Clackamas Literary Review, New Delta Review, The Independent (UK) , and Shambhala Sun, as well as on mindful.org, The Nervous Breakdown, and Salon.com. Born and raised in the Deep South, she lives there still with her partner, Todd Bourque, and their cats.

Connect online at ronlyndomingue.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

42 Responses to “The Burning Fate of a Writer’s Archive”

  1. Carey Weeks says:

    This article was amazing. I often ponder odd things such as this and am happy to know I’m not alone!

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      No, you’re definitely not alone on this.

      I had a professor in graduate school who kept perhaps everything he’d ever done. One room in his house was dedicated to file cabinets two or three rows deep. It was filled–he said–with his work. I guess he kept drafts.

      I might fall somewhere in the middle between nothing and everything.

      • Carey Weeks says:

        I took a trip to Monroeville, Alabama last summer, the home of Harper Lee. She never really published anything else after To Kill A Mockingbird. Writers have to write…so I wonder if there will be a treasure trove of genius writing waiting for the world, stuffed in her closet or in well kept boxes or drawers.

  2. I’m of two minds about this.

    For personal things – I tossed some old journals and love letters that I had saved and saved and then one day – poof! Out the door in a fit of rage. Today, I wish I still had them.

    But as for early drafts of work – since everything is saved on the computer, I no longer make even the tiniest ceremony about recycling them after I red-mark the pages and rewrite them.

    I have to confess, though. My heart broke when you said you burned those beautiful hand-written pages of Novel #2 once you typed the words into the computer. I keep hoping you’d say “After I scanned them, of course.”

    There’s something so much more beautiful about hand-written things. If I want someone to know I mean something, I still get out paper, a pen and a stamp rather than email.

    I hope you go buy a new pair of shoes to put in that new space in your closet!

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Oh no–the handwritten pages are safe! I went back into the essay just now to clarify. I only burned typed printouts of #2. The first photo in the piece, although you can’t really tell, is proof that I have all the handwritten materials.

      If you don’t mind sharing, why do you wish you still had the old journals and letters? Maybe later I’ll be sorry I destroyed most of mine…

      I totally agree about handwritten things. Our current modes of communication are convenient and timely, but the intimacy is lost.

      That new space is the closet will be filled with Novel #2′s archive, which will amount to TWO boxes if I keep it all.

      • Whew!!! Regardless of how many times Novel #2 gets altered from this point forward, I think your handwritten copy will be a treasure forever!

        I re-read all of my journals and letters – front to back and cover to cover – before trashing them all. Too often, in fact. At the time, finally getting rid of them was the healthiest thing I could do. I was on an emotional hamster-wheel that I couldn’t get off of otherwise. (Something I’ve written about in other places that we don’t necessarily revisit right now.) ;)

        So while I do remember very vividly what was in them, I no longer have the proof of the tear-stained ink that was poured so genuinely into them. And despite the joy of the additional closet space, the deeply sentimental part of me really, really, wants them back.

        And I still think you deserve to carve out a tiny space on top of those boxes for a new pair of shoes! You wrote, not one, buttwo novels! That deserves a celebration!!!

  3. The space above my desk is littered with notes in your hand. The most precious gift I have ever been given, my 40th b-day haikus, has your fingerprints and scripted hand all over it. Each time you tell me of a burning, I ache a little. That said, I trust you to travel the right path in your process, even when you don’t know why it’s right. I am honored that you have trusted me to shared some of the journey with you.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      The haiku book! Yes. That was so much fun to make on so many levels. (I can still recite the one about “Satan” by heart.) I’m glad to hear it remains a treasure.

      One can’t keep everything. And honestly, post 2005, I contemplate more and more what is essential. Besides, a lot of what’s scribbled in a writer’s work is shorthand for a bigger concept. For someone to delve in, it’s a lot of speculation.

      The journey wouldn’t be the same (or at times, as funny) without you.

  4. Matt says:

    When my home flooded during hurricane Katrina, I lost 95% of everything I’d ever written: short stories, poetry, scrips, notebooks. All gone, totally unrecoverable.

    It was tragic. It was liberating.

    It wasn’t until after it was gone that I realized how much all of that had been weighing me down. It was a chronicle of my at times very difficult and awkward growth as a student writer. Though I couldn’t admit it to myself, I was very, very unhappy with a lot of that material, and losing it all was very liberating. Like I’d been let out of a writer’s box of some sort.

    I think one of the reasons we feel compelled to hang on to all those drafts and journals and notes is because they represent accumulated hours/months/years of our lives; even if the end project never came to fruition, we can look at that material and tell ourselves that it was at least spent doing something.

    Kudos for taking the handwritten approach with your new book. I compose almost all of my roughs that way. Something about the scratchscritchscratch of pencil on paper really ignites my creative fire.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      I replied to Alison before I read your comment. Yes, that event made me rethink a lot even though I wasn’t in the city and lost nothing as a result. I was only a distant witness.

      I’m sorry to hear that you lost those records by circumstance rather than choice, but I absolutely understand the feeling of liberation. Almost like a clean slate to begin again with nothing left to compare it to.

      When T and I restored our house, even though it took years, there was tangible progress along the way. There was evidence of effort every few days or weeks. Accumulated pages show there’s been work, but I have to admit, it’s not as gratifiying.

      Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to writing on a computer. Since I started this book, I’ve written almost everything by hand first, including this essay. I do love the physicality.

  5. Tawni Freeland says:

    As someone who was a teenager in the days before the internet was fully birthed, I never saw the importance of learning to type proficiently in high school, much to my later regret. Yet the idea of writing by hand has never even occurred to me. I don’t really know why. I find it really fascinating and cool that you are writing your second novel by hand.

    In the mid-nineties, I lost everything I’d ever written, from childhood into my twenties, to a house fire that turned the large trunk in which I kept it all to ashes. I mourned the loss at first, but now that I’m older, I think it was probably one of the best things that could have happened. I’m sure the fire spared me massive amounts of later mortification. I agree with what Matt says above about it being liberating as well; a chance to reinvent yourself, to stop defining yourself by earlier work. I wonder if you have possibly been feeling the same way, as you fantasize about burning no longer needed writings on an outdoor pyre?

    I also destroy all letters and photos from relationships once they’ve ended. I don’t like what it does to me psychologically to run across reminders of my romantic failures, so I see no need to keep them around if it’s truly over.

    So burn, baby, burn, I say. And raise a toast to new beginnings as you do it. (:

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Perhaps Matt and I can convince you to try the archaic method. You might be surprised how much you like it. In my case, I’m more likely to keep writing rather than to flip back and re-read or edit, as I did when I wrote on the computer. ((It’s never too late to learn how to type. I learned in two weeks at a half-day camp as a teen. There must be software for that now.))

      You lost your writing, too! It’s sad you didn’t get to decide on your own…but I’m glad you made peace with it. I admit, I have my periods when I think to re-categorize the work I did before I hit my 30s. You used the term “mortification.” Yeah, I fear that, too.

      Cheers, Tawni…for your new beginnings as well!

  6. Irene Zion says:

    Oh Ronlyn!

    Make sure you save the handwritten pages, please.
    If no one else wants them, I do, or my heirs.
    But I’m sure your alma mater will want them.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      The handwritten stuff might be an archivist’s nightmare. They’ll have to make special boxes to hold the contents together!

      For now, I can promise I’ll keep them safe here.

  7. D.R. Haney says:

    I read a comment by a writer (who isn’t at TNB) recently about writing by hand versus writing on a computer. He always works initially the first way, he said, because writing on a computer encourages editing even as the work is only just beginning. I thought that was a good point, though it’s been so long since I wrote by hand that I’m not sure I could return to it. At the same time, before I read that writer’s comment, I often wondered if it took me as long to finish my first novel because the computer encouraged me to constantly edit.

    Like you, I have to admit, I’ve considered posterity, and I’ve saved many, if not most, of the many various drafts of my last novel in digital form, and I’ve even saved a few in hard copy. But if I’ve saved every change in hard copy, I would’ve needed an entire room to store the paper. I’m not kidding. A stack of the galley changes alone would have been, I would estimate, three feet high — and the galley changes were minor tweaks, coming after the careful attention paid to whole paragraphs and chapters.

    Woolf was, as you know, hearing voices when she killed herself, in the early stages of a psychotic break of the kind she’d suffered before, and that may account for her failure to destroy her papers, as she’d requested in her will that her survivors do. It’s hard for me to imagine that she meant for her diary to be destroyed along with everything else. She was bound to have known how great it was, and she wasn’t, to say the least, without vanity about her writing, which is likely the reason she wanted her papers destroyed, looking to her future reputation. She was also bound to know that Leonard, her husband, wouldn’t comply, but even so, Woolf scholars — and there are many of them — are indebted to him. Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to imagine a world of literary scholarship existing in a few decades. I just don’t see that kind of attention being paid to history, unfortunately. It’s already increasingly rare to find it in the young. But that was probably being said twenty and forty years ago. So I’m constantly told. People suddenly develop historical perspective when historical perspective is called into question, if only to say, “It was always like that.”

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      The writer who said handwriting discourages editing—that’s been my experience. I recall spending a lot of time noodling with minor stuff in the manuscript of my first novel because it was easy to do so. I didn’t write much by hand either until I started writing this book. You might be pleasantly surprised how well you take to it.

      One of the reasons I destroy my edited typed pages is because I have so many. This book’s evolution has happened in stages, which I can’t call drafts because it’s not fully complete. Like you, I would have ended up with a stack several feet high. Even though I do my best to recycle and print on both sides of the paper. (I might have to plant more trees in my yard as homage.)

      I’d forgotten about the voices at the end. Some other things I’ve read about Woolf suggested that her husband would NOT have destroyed her papers. There were assertions he did so not only to preserve her literary legacy but also for money. Who knows what the reasons were.

      Literary scholarship will probably morph or evolve like anything else. That core human love for discovery won’t die. Whether those future scholars will have anything to mine that’s not electronic–that remains to be seen.

      • D.R. Haney says:

        Wait. Did I mistakenly write that Leonard Woolf DID destroy his wife’s papers? I didn’t mean to give that impression. As far as I knew, he did not. But if you’re saying he did destroy some of them, well, you may well know better.

        Allen Ginsberg sold his papers to the University of Texas, I think it was, for a million dollars before he died, but I’m fairly certain that his letters from Kerouac, Burroughs, et al, was included in the cache. If only we could all have such a windfall in our golden years. But first, of course, we need to become famous, and to acquire famous friends.

        I’m trying hard to keep up my end of the bargain, Ronlyn, but it’s far from working so far!

        • Ronlyn Domingue says:

          All’s well–I understood your point that Leonard wouldn’t have destroyed them, regardless of her wishes. I was echoing that idea based on what I’d read elsewhere.

          Someone correct me if I’m mistaken, but I think her entire collection was spared.

          It’s an act of trust, really, for me to have a will and expect family and friends to honor it. If I’m dead, it’s not like I can do anything if they choose not to.

          A million dollars. Hmmm. Wonder what the price tags will be for others in the future.

          We’re still relatively young, Duke. Don’t despair! We all just have to keep writing! No matter what happens, we TNB peeps are in excellent company.

  8. As others have said here too, I’m amazed that you’re writing out this novel (and, as you mention, this very essay). I’m also sort of amazed that I’m so amazed. It wasn’t that long ago that I wrote most things by hand too, but it feels like another writing lifetime ago. Now I only write anything down when making edits on printed-out drafts, which I do because I find I read the story differently and thereby catch things I wouldn’t otherwise on the screen.

    But someone recently gave me an old fountain pen, so maybe that, and hearing your positive experience with this, is reason to start back touching paper in my hands again.

  9. Zara Potts says:

    Your penmanship is so lovely – I am glad you are writing novel number 2 longhand.
    I think it’s one of the saddest things about our modern age that people barely write anymore. My grandmother had the most beautiful script – to see her letters was like looking at some fancy decoration. The written word is beautiful, quite literally.
    I remember practising and practising my writing. I wanted to have a beautiful signature and a beautiful script and I would save notes from people whose penmanship I admired and I would steal flourishes from them. Now, my hand looks too scribbly -through lack of practise I suspect.
    As for keeping records and journals – I have saved every piece of correspondance I have ever received. My mother and grandmother saved every card I wrote from the time I could hold a pencil. I have journals from age 7 and I have kept everything. I don’t know why, as I never look through it, but it’s a comfort knowing my life is somehow documented. Weird.
    I love the imagery in this piece. The burning paper, the coloured pencils. Your body of work is most definitely a treasure.

    • Thank you, Miss Zara. Yours is delightful as well. I still remember sitting in my third grade class and looking up at the little banner above the chalkboard which had the alphabet printed in cursive letters. I, too, relished having nice penmanship. It paid off. I don’t have to puzzle at my pages to wonder what those scribbles are. And when I was on my book tour, now and then people would comment–with surprise–that my signature was legible.

      You inherited some treasure keeping from your mom and grandmother. And what a treasure they kept! So charming! I understand that comfort in having life documented. I think that’s why I didn’t just burn everything.

  10. kristen says:

    Loved reading about (this aspect of) your personal creating process, the writing of #2 by hand… And I’m a big, wide-eyed fan of synchronicities, so I enjoyed reading about the timing of Novel #2 and your discovery of that Woolf biography. Very interesting.

    This piece also struck me–

    “As for clumsy drafts and notes, they reveal an evolving process of both the works themselves and my development as a writer. Even I can see that, especially when I dared to skim some of what I wrote as a teenager. But I doubt I’ll ever sit down to read all those old short stories, poems, and plays. Short of the laughs, it could be excruciating.”

    I hear ya on that front. Recently went back and read the first (of adulthood) short story I wrote, and man was that… a trip. It was so many things–laughable, confusing, embarrassing… It was also very sweet. I sat there lost in a crazy jumble of adverbs and adjectives (ouch!), and it was like I gave the me of ten years ago–so fresh and full of hope, uncrushed–a big ol’ hug. She was on the right track.

    • When I sorted through my works, I TRIED to read more than a few paragraphs of some of the stories. Sheesh. I wonder if the perfusion of adverbs and adjectives is a developmental stage, because some of my pieces suffered from that affliction big time.

      We all have to start somewhere. Unless we practice, we can’t learn what works for us. I guess it’s not so bad to have a few things saved to see how far we’ve come.

      Thanks for reading, Kristen!

  11. Judy Prince says:

    You touched quite a chord in this essay, Ronlyn. I was especially moved by this:

    ” . . . what future is there for what is actually written? Typed pages covered in arrows and the author’s scrawls. A hasty note tossed in a box. A handwritten letter. An autograph. These things are treasures and commodities now. Imagine the frenzy of collectors and scholars who one day may want to touch what a certain writer touched—you, me, someone else.”

    • It remains a rhetorical question in a way. Perhaps there will be a backlash–or a Renaissance–in the future. I think a lot about the tactile dimension of our human experience, something technology blunts. Maybe I’m writing by hand in part because it’s a more integrated experience, full of touch and smell and sight and sound. (There might be taste, but I don’t chew my pencils.)

      • Judy Prince says:

        Good thing you’re not a pencil-chewer, Ronlyn, or you might have lead in the brain even as we speak (write). ;-)

        I love the marriage of tactile things with e-tech things. My research for writing would be light years behind if not for e-tech. I’d never have met dear Rodent if not for e-tech. I buy books and even groceries online. I’ve come to know you and your writings because of e-tech.

        Our marvelous tactile world is wider and more alive than ever because of e-technology. The future that so many have dreamed about has quietly sneaked up on us, handing us our globe to explore as if it were our private domain, our child’s ball to toss, propel, guide and hold dear.

        I appreciate your sensitive thoughts and the poetic way you’ve brought them to us.

        • Ronlyn Domingue says:

          I appreciate what technology has provided, especially the efficiency. Research for this novel has been MUCH easier because of what’s available online. Yet the thrill of that does not compare, for me, to when I held the reprint of a 14th century book I needed to see. That was a visceral numinous experience, one that could not be matched if I’d seen it on a screen.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Quite right, Ronlyn. That which we can touch, smell, hear and see up close and personal inevitably connects with us more deeply than with things several degrees removed from us. Nice that we increasingly have *both* worlds available to us.

  12. From the time I could read and write my grandmother and I carried on a weekly correspondence and I kept all the cards and letters in a small pink chest — the most ugly thing ever made of a quilted plastic material stretched over cardboard. It sat in my childhood room for years and years until my mother, in a fit of cleaning decided to clear out my room, freshen the paint, the drapes etc. She swears she asked me about the chest, and she may have, but I was away at college and my grandmother was still alive and the thought of holding onto all that stuff may not have mattered to me as much then as the idea of it does now.

    When my grandmother died quickly and unexpectedly a few years later, there was a box of my cards and letters to her on the shelf in her closet bound with a rubber band, it was a beautiful hard edged gift box from Lord & Taylor. There was something about my adolescent self — this one-sided correspondence — that I couldn’t stand to read and I burned all of it in the barbecue pit. Funny, I still don’t regret doing that now.

    As much as I write, I have never kept a journal. Every single thing gets poured into the fictional world. My archives, as it were, consist of scribbled notes in abandoned college ruled notebooks, the pages half full. I keep track of my chapters with colored post-it notes all over my desk to the left of my computer. When that book is done I carefully peel off the post-its and stick them in a notebook. The pages and pages of edited manuscript are bound with twine and stuffed in a box labeled with cryptic notes to self that only I understand. To say my legacy is chaotic is an understatement. Figuring out who to bequeath the post-its to is another matter entirely.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      How beautiful that you had that experience with your grandmother! Although her side of the conversation is missing, you have the memories. I myself wish I could burn away the memories of adolescence. Documentation is sparse.

      I kept a sporadic journal for years. Now, I don’t bother. Sometimes I jot down personal notes in the notebook I keep for the novel I’m working on. That’s about it.

      Cryptic notes? A treasure trove for someone else. Imagine that person trying to figure out the puzzle!

      I’m a corkboard enthusiast myself. It’s in need of a major reorganization…or maybe I’m beyond that point now.

  13. Oh, I love handwritten things. I don’t handwrite entire manuscripts as often as I used to, but if I’m ever stuck it’s really the only fix. There’s just something about the flow of handwriting and the flow of thoughts … it just works. Also, if I handwrite I sketch while I think, and the sketching just works.

    When I was a kid, the one moment that really made a lasting impact on me in Little Women was that instant Amy chucks Jo’s manuscript in the fire. !!! I was so traumatized by that as a little aspiring writer myself. I thought that would be the worst hell imaginable, watching your work twist into black ashes, helpless to save it. Of course that’s someone else doing the burning, but I don’t think I could set anything of mine aflame as a result. And I probably should. I’m in trouble if anyone finds some of this crap.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Sketching…yeah, that skips over the left-brain’s wordiness and goes straight to the image source. I don’t usually do that myself, but I have one sketch in my notebook that’s worth 10,000 words.

      Re: Little Women. I forgot about that part! Ahhh! I can attest to how great it is to burn one’s own stuff—but to see someone else do it? Torture.

  14. Greg Olear says:

    Subtitle: “In which the author reveals herself to be a Virgo.”

    I can’t believe you have 1,000 pages of notes. Wowsers. I have one slender notebook per book, and some of them are lost. I don’t know that I’d actively burn anything, but I don’t actively archive anything, either. I actually lost the second full novel I wrote, all 670 hideous pages of it; fortunately, my friend had a copy on his hard drive.

    Didn’t Kafka express a dying wish that his papers be burned, and wasn’t that wish ignored?

    I say, keep the stuff. You’ve had it this long. Lock it in a storage bin somewhere, don’t visit for years, and maybe someday a future Geraldo will stumble upon the key…

    Great piece, Ronlyn.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Ha!!! No kidding! I’m a model poster child for the sign.

      Funny how we’re sometimes grateful to have heinous things returned to us. Is that novel one you’ve shoved in a drawer, proverbially speaking?

      I’ll have to look up Kafka. Don’t know. As for my stuff, I guess as long as it’s organized to minimize use of space, I can tolerate it. Although that future Geraldo might face some nasty encounters with silverfish nibbles and roach droppings.

  15. Wow. I’m a Virgo, too, and after reading this I have an overwhelming urge to burn down everything in my house! Get rid of it ALL!

    I’m inspired!

    Great post, as always!

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Yay, a fellow Virgo!!!

      A few months ago, I went to a book talk for a writer who quit her job as a literary agent, sold most of her possessions, and traveled the world for a couple of years with big suitcase. She said she’d never felt so free. I have my moments when that sounds sooooooo tempting. Talk about no clutter!

  16. J.M. Blaine says:

    I’ve got junk words
    scattered everywhere.
    flash drives & tiny notebooks
    and stuffed in side pockets
    of suitcases.

    I love the thought of
    burning it all.
    But probably not the
    reality yet.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      I used to have such tidbits, too. A long time ago, I put all of it in a box. And then sometime around the last purge, I threw it out in the recycling bin.

      If your notes are anything like your comments, that scattered stash must contain some gold word-nuggets.

  17. Erika Rae says:

    Ooo – I’m inspired to have a bonfire. My problem is that I have probably 30+ digital copies of each manuscript, each with edits and changes. And then there are the hard copies. Oof. Yeah, it’s time to do some spring cleaning.

    • Ronlyn Domingue says:

      Shredding and recycling is simply not as satisfying as the heat of a fire. Cull out the hard copies you really feel you don’t need to keep and break out the matches!

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