My parents are moving out of the house they’ve lived in for twenty years. Which of my belongings do I discard, and which do I make them lug to their new house and store for me until God knows when? My attempts to weed out parts of my childhood bedroom over Christmas taught me a lot about my priorities. Stuffed animals, summer camp t-shirts, graduation paraphernalia? Toss without a backward glance. But my packrat tendencies kicked in when it came to really valuable stuff like old American Girl magazines, my collection of 1967 World Book encyclopedias…and anything I’ve written.
I hang onto almost all of my writing, whether it’s in a notebook or a computer file. Partly because it represents a lot of hard work, but mostly because (to use a cliché), I’m scared to throw out the baby with the bathwater. What if, buried deep in the piles of writing rubbish, there’s a character, a line of dialogue, or even a phrase I might want to use someday?
During the creation of a 150-page novel I wrote when I was about fourteen, I also ended up with an 80-page rival document of deleted scenes. Most of the writing there I can’t see using in the future at all. There is, for instance, a long, digressive subplot about a pirate who’s so obsessed with eating cinnamon buns that even his name, Nubni Mannic, is “cinnamon bun” spelled backwards…and incorrectly. But the description of a character who has “greasy hair the color of a banana bruise?" Hmmm…worth hanging onto…just in case.
Even earlier in my past, my brother approached me with a request to write him a werewolf story, and his instructions were to “make it as scary as possible.” So I did, and it was very scary. You can tell how scary this story is right from the subtle opening:
Hi! My name is Billy. I’d like to tell you something. It all began four years ago when I was eight. One day I was packing for my camping trip with my mom and dad in the mountains. My family just got a new van and station wagon.The story just goes downhill from there, degenerating into a thousand-word gore fest. My brother and I read the story out loud to our dad, expecting him to shiver with fright and proclaim it a masterpiece of suspense. Instead, he was completely disgusted and gave me strict instructions to delete that story and never show anybody.
We were done packing and we were ready to hit the road. On our way we saw some blood on the road and some dead peoples heads. We saw some signs that said “DANGER."
But I didn’t, and years later, I’m glad I kept it. At the very least, hanging onto very bad writing gives me reassurance of how far I’ve come in the course of my writing life…or lets me have a good laugh at myself.