Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Writing and Tidying Aren't Compatible

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I write. You probably don’t know that I am a clean-things-up/toss-things-out fanatic. (Actually, I don’t think I am, but the rest of the family does.) Yesterday, these two facets of who I am converged.

But first you need to hear the backstory. Years ago I wrote a short story called “The Fishhook.” Part of me loves the story and part of me is convinced that the story is the bane of my existence. You see, I’ve been trying to perfect this story for years. And I haven’t been able to do it. The story is strange (about a serial killer, although that's not the odd part), yet compelling. My writing friends have been known to say, “Hey, did you ever finish that story about the serial killer? I really liked that story.”

Since I had just finished an edit of my latest novel, I thought, “Why not polish off ‘The Fishhook’ and send it out to a literary magazine?” Why not, indeed...This is why not. The story refuses to be what it’s supposed to be—it refuses to follow all the rules for short stories. Every time I try to finish it, it becomes water in a sieve.

The other day I rolled up my sleeves and steeled my trembling resolve. I rewrote the beginning from scratch, determined to make the story obey the rules. And it slipped through my fingers. I emailed it to my friend/writing buddy. She said, “I know you’re trying to make this fit the genre, but you’ve gutted the heart and soul of the story.” Ugh. I’d be depressed except that a niggling voice in the back of my mind had already told me that truth. Then my friend said, “Go back to the original version.”

This is when the plunge-ever-forward writing part of me crashed into the brick wall of the toss-things fanatic. Gulp. I didn’t have the original version anymore, not even a hard copy. I hesitated to mention this to my family. Because I knew what was coming—they already call me “the mom who cleans things up before you even have a chance to use them.” (I’ll admit that is justified and is part of the reason I drive my kids crazy when they cook or bake.)

I pronounced my problem sheepishly and was, of course, roundly excoriated—okay, I wasn’t excoriated, but it’s a cool word and I wanted to use it. I was teased mercilessly. And Ariel made cryptic remarks that sounded like “I told you it would lead to this one day.”

I emailed my friend, “Uh, you don’t happen to have a copy of the old version of ‘The Fishhook,’ do you?” She didn’t. Now I was getting antsy. Then I discovered that being techno-troglodyte has its benefits. I opened a file by accident and discovered that I’d mis-saved an old version of the story over another disastrous attempt at revision a couple of years ago. Whew!

So I can say “neener” to Ariel. And I’ve learned hopefully to at least keep hard copies, except they take up a lot of room in my file box...


  1. Agh.. I have that problem too!! I'm constantly getting rid of anything that I've just remade, which always comes back to haunt me.

  2. I have had the problem where you leave something up and your computer goes to sleep and you have to decide between the autosave version and the original. So far, Windows 7 hasn't given me any trouble on that subject.

  3. Ah yes, like That time in Lego League Andrew?

  4. Yeah, Andrew deletes every file on his computer every few days. He goes through data like a human goes through skin. Whenever I ask him if I can have such and such a game he was playing, the answer is invariably "Oh, I already deleted it." I don't think he even finishes them.

  5. @Matthew

    Hey!! That was truly an accident!! It was the fault of the program we were using!!

  6. So true! I go through both digital and real-life packrat to purge cycles...I actually just did so in real life this weekend and wrote it up on my blog. But now that my shelves are clean the files on my computer are bugging me...the cycle repeats.