Tag Archives: Drafts

Why I have a box full of old drafts


Yesterday I argued that you should throw away your darlings and never look at them again. It will probably come as no surprise to you that I don’t really follow that advice.

In my basement storage area I have a large box that contains old printed drafts of my books. There are early copies of my first novel Atlantia, half drafts from Dark Matter, and of course a ton of Surreality material. In the beginning I told myself I was saving this stuff for “security.” Wouldn’t want anyone stealing my ideas, after all. Later on I decided that these artifacts might be interesting to others if I ever became a big name author, stuff that new writers might even be able to learn from. Now I think it’s just a box I’ll have to run through the shredder at some point.

I have binders full of old stories, notebooks with handwritten ideas, original composition notebooks from 7th grade (first time I ever filled one of those things up with my own work), and countless other bits of detritus. And this doesn’t even begin to count my digital files. I have 6-7 drafts of Surreality each separately saved and available in eBook format. They were helpful when I was moving from draft to draft, and I never deleted them.

I occasionally thumb through this stuff, more for amusement than anything else. Sometimes I worry that I had all my best ideas in high school and that the rest of my life is being spent executing them. Looking back at old work provides pretty clear evidence this isn’t true, but it also makes me realize how long some ideas have been floating around in my head.

It’s interesting to see things you intended to put in a story, and never did. I write notes less because I intend to read them back, but more to move a thought to a different part of my memory. I think all of these details, even the ones that don’t make it to final page, inform the writer’s perception of the character. Keenan might have a weird love of Abba (because he’s y’know . . . human), but it’s a detail that might never be officially stated in a book. And yet I can keep writing him in scenes knowing that “Dancing Queen” is playing in his head.

And old work can reassure you that the core of the story is still there, and that you’ve improved upon it in the final draft. I reread the rough draft of Surreality when I finished my final edit. The process of revision can be exhausting, and often leave you wondering if you’ve really made things better, or if you’ve just changed them a bunch. Because it doesn’t always feel as fresh as the creative process, editing can leave you numb and less objective toward the work. Reading the old draft can be reassuring. You can see clear evidence that you kept the bits that mattered, and cut the junk away. Maybe you’ll find something you took out that deserves to be put back in, but more likely than not, looking back can show you that you’re moving forward in a good direction.

And while many old ideas and passages grow stale with time, others can take on new meaning. An idea I would have written one way a decade ago, might be something completely different now. And the converse is also true, something I thought was brilliant at the time can turn out to be a terrible idea now. Sometimes looking at old material shows us things about ourselves we’d rather not remember, blind-spots in our writing that hopefully we’ve matured enough to fix.

I still don’t exactly subscribe to the idea that saving old bits for later is good for writing new stories, but I think there’s a lot that can be learned from having this trove of old info to dig through. Every now and again I think it’s healthy to “take stock” of who you are as a writer, and where you want to go. These boxes of old material might be just the way to do it.

1 Comment

Filed under Writing

Is it getting drafty in here?

One part of moving my office to the basement is moving all of my files, including some big binders full of old drafts of my current work.

When I was writing my first novel back in high-school part of the writing ritual included printing off the night’s writing, three-hole punching it, and adding it to the growing stack of paper in my working binder. The weight and feel of that paper was part of my reward.

Truthfully this process continued for many years. I’m not sure when I stopped printing on a page by page basis, but I’ve printed complete drafts of the various revisions of Surreality, Dark Matter and many other projects for years. In fact the initial revisions for Surreality and early revisions of Dark Matter (before I decided it needed a complete rewrite) were done by hand with pen on paper. So I have virgin drafts that are unmarked, and I have drafts that are covered in my abysmal handwriting.

The recurring theme of my office move is space. I actually am getting a bigger office in the basement than I ever had in the front bedroom, but I’m still trying to consolidate and create a more professional and organized space without all of the clutter. Prior to the move I’d already moved all but the more recent drafts into a box that sits in the storage area, probably to be uncovered by my grand-children, and this is probably the fate that awaits the drafts sitting on my shelf.

My current editing process is all digital. Current revisions of a book are kept on tablets, while all the editing work is done on a laptop. I used to think that doing it by hand with pen a paper enabled me to catch more, but it also slowed down my ability to just rewrite an entire paragraph from scratch, using the previous as reference. The Sky Below has been entirely written this way, and will probably only see printed form if I do some kind of a CreateSpace version. Ditto for the final revisions of Surreality. The fractal book has never seen a printed form (except for very short sections).

My wife has said in the past that I should hold onto these drafts despite their anachronism and she’s probably right. I’ve thought about using them as giveaways in some future Kickstarter project, or even just recycling the paper. For the virgin drafts I guess this would be no great loss, and truthfully I’m not sure what benefit the early edits will show to anyone except for the most nascent writer. But there they sit in the box, safe from the somewhat ruthless machinations of efficiency, space and neatness (phrases which outsiders would never use to describe my office).

Maybe it’s just that I’ve passed the stage where I want the interim product, and want to hold the actual artifact in my hand. Indeed, even though the fractal book is the first project I ever self-published and continue to make money from, it’s a little unsatisfying to not see it sitting on my shelf. I once calculated what I’d have to sell it for on CreateSpace to make a profit. Turns out I’d have to cut 100 pages (because of page limits on color copies) either by shrinking the font, combining gallery pages, or cutting content, and sell the book for $60 to make about a buck on each copy. That’s 12 times what I charge to make a better profit digitally. So it’s a bit of a chore just to make a hard copy for myself professionally. Still, one of these days I may splurge.

What do you do with your old drafts? Are you a hoarder or unsentimental?

1 Comment

Filed under Writing