Hey all. Gerry Boyle here, taking a break from some spring cleaning. Clearing stuff out. Digging through cartons. Figuring out what stays and what goes. Books. Papers. Manuscripts. Notes.
Yes, in the back corner of a closet I came upon a carton of manuscripts. Well, more than one carton. Manuscripts on faded dot matrix paper. Page proofs as they arrived back from the publisher, once the books were in print. Manuscripts with long-forgotten working titles. (No, I didn’t have a McMorrow novel called BATTERED.)
So here’s the question, for writers and readers alike. What do you do with all this stuff? Stick it back in the box? Hide it out in the barn? Wait for a university to bid for my papers? Save it for the museum?
Other options: Save the stuff for the kids, give it away like zucchini. (Hey, everybody take a carton on the way out.) Give it away to lucky readers (you said you wanted a book, well, here you go). Save the papers for contest prizes. (You are the lucky winner of 350 pages of yellowed manuscript, complete with mouse gnawings).
Well, the good thing about having one of these big old 19th century Maine houses is that you don’t really have to throw anything away if you don’t want to. You just shuffle stuff around. And I’m having second thoughts about trucking this kind of thing to the dump.
And not just because of the nostalgia factor. (I remember thinking BATTERED was a really good title). But because as I look at my last two or three books, I realize that in the future there won’t be boxes of manuscripts. There won’t be faded stacks of paper. There won’t be four versions of a mystery novel, each one printed out, scribed with notes. There won’t be cartons of anything.
This, my friends, is the last vestige of the paper era. Writers coming up now will leave their kids a couple of thumb drives. Leave their laptops to posterity.
There’s something so tactile about a stack of paper. It’s got heft. It’s got bulk. A novel, printed out, looks like a lot or words and a lot of work. All those scribbles, arrows and slashes and cross-outs are moments in the writing process, frozen in time.
So what do you think? What would you do with all of this, if anything? I’m open to ideas. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for a new home for all these boxes of paper. Good thing I have a barn.
I can’t help with this one. Instead of saving old versions and page proofs, I’ve always printed on the backs and then, when both sides were used up, put them in the recycle bin to take to the town dump. I still print each day’s work, by the way, but once I revise, the old versions are history. I don’t really want anyone to see how bad they were! Now if I could just figure out what to do with those stacks of cartons of old author copies of the dozen or so romance novels I wrote back in the ’90s . . .
I tried that. Put an old ms. in the recycling bin at the transfer station. Happen to be the moment when the worker climbs up a ladder and stomps the paper down like grapes at a vineyard. My last glimpse of my ms. was seeing it stomped by his boots.
Since I live in a big old Victorian with a monster attic, you’d think I’d have space for any such mementos, but said room is filled with things someone (read children and not-yet-grandchildren) MIGHT want in some distant future time. Coupled with the dilemma of what to do with donations that there’s no practical use for at the library, I’ve come to view recycling and getting rid of stuff as a necessary and therapeutic part of life. A long time ago I read a book, possibly by L. Sprague Decamp where success was defined by ending up owning nothing. It’s a concept that has always fascinated me because it’s so out of character with our basic nature. Good luck with this task.
Signing some of the old manuscripts and donating it to charitable causes for fund raising could result in a tax write-off. Or you could consider signed copies for prizes at independent book sellers when doing book signings.
I’m a pack rat, so this would definitely be me. I still have all the research (all the student essays I collected) for my master’s thesis. Which I finished in 1995, and no longer need the source material for, much less want. Somehow, I can’t seem to recycle it. There’s an emotional attachment to the physical evidence of the time in my life. I also have every performance review I’ve ever received. Why?!? I suspect I would be very attached to old manuscripts, if I had any, and definitely anything with my notes or an editor’s notes on it. But, I might, just might, be willing to scan it and save it on the thumb drive, so I don’t have to move the boxes again. Great post!
Oh, no. Another pack rat. I think we’re enabling each other. Also unearthed were papers on D.H. Lawrence, Henry IV. What was I thinking? There was the answer.
Gary, I think if you’ve got the space, you hang on to them. They’re historically significant. Maybe you’ll want to teach a writing class and the papers can be used as examples. Maybe your kids will never look at them, but I bet your grands will.
Maybe you just need more time to pass before you can let them go.
I’m that way with clothes. When you’re never going to wear an outfit again and haven’t’ in 10 years and there’s no way the grands would be interested, it’s give away time. Or in the case of old papers, recycle them.