Bea Davenport reminds us why we shouldn’t throw any writing away!
I’m sure I was told this once, way back at a writing group I used to attend. And of course I took no notice. But now I’m saying it to my students every week, because I’ve learned the hard way that being bin-happy is something that the writer lives to regret.
My biggest and stupidest ‘throwaway’ was when I left home at the age of 18 and decided to chuck all my diaries. They’d been kept without fail on a daily basis since the age of eleven, so I could look up what I was doing on any given day between 1972 and 1979 and find out, in minute detail, exactly what I’d been up to. I’m not suggesting it was all that amazing – but this was a record of my life, all through my teenage years. I’d also stuck in photos, cinema and concert tickets and various other bits of memorabilia, some of which would probably fetch a fair sum on eBay today (who knew?).
Why would I do such a monumentally idiotic thing? Because I was 18 and rather ashamed of my geeky teenage self. I was also moving in with a very controlling boyfriend, and I didn’t like the thought that he might go through them and find opportunities to mock, question or criticise.
I often still write about childhood and coming of age, so I grind my teeth when I think what a great source of information those diaries would have been.
I also failed to keep hundreds of cuttings from my years as a newspaper journalist. There was a slightly better reason for this. I was told by some grizzly old editor that cuttings were only used for getting you your next job, so I only kept the ones with a by-line. And some of the papers I worked on were a little niggardly with by-lines, so I threw away reams of my work because it didn’t actually have my name on it.
Aaargh! And now I find myself writing a novel set in the 1980s and wanting to include some things based on stories I covered at the time. And they’re not in my scrapbooks. Unlike the diaries, they’re not irretrievable, but finding them will involve a long drive to various libraries to trawl through their old newspapers on microfilm. (Most local newspaper archives are not yet online).
And yes, I cheerfully ignored the writing group’s advice not to throw away any fragments of creative work. And every now and again, I remember writing something that I think might be worth digging out and reviving – only to find that I’ve thrown it away.
If I ever produce a text book on writing, this tip will be on Page 1. You can feng shui, declutter, chuck out your chintz and go minimalist as much as you want – but when it comes to your writing, find a dark cupboard and stuff it with every word you ever write. You never know when those rough jottings will be just the words you need.
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