Advice, Editing, Fiction, Revision, Tips, Writing

A packrat in writer’s clothes

A few days ago, Christ Craig’s blog post was about purging. Her post was terrific, and she asked us to share how we save our writing. Then the discussion took a turn when, in one of her replies to a comment, she quoted Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life:

“It is the beginning of a work that the writer throws away. A painting covers its tracks. Painters work from the ground up. The latest version of a painting overlays earlier versions, and obliterates them.”

I’ve never read the book, but I think I should, and have it on order now. I hope that what Dillard meant was that by editing and revising we paint over the preliminary sketch of the first draft. But maybe she was echoing the advice of others (or vice versa) that admonishes writers to complete the first draft and then throw it out, delete it, and start over fresh. That advice horrified me the first time I read it, and still does.

I’ve now given some thought to why I don’t think I will ever take that advice. I am a packrat. I have a hard time throwing anything out. I’m learning to let go more each year, but still, I know from experience how often I’ve regretted tossing something … usually within a week.

I have to think that even in those first drafts, there has to be some gold. Why would I waste that? And don’t try to tell me that if it was gold it will come back to me in the rewrite. Have you never thought of the perfect line and then lost it before you’re able to write it down?

So, at least for now, I will continue to edit and revise from each first draft, but I’ll keep all my interim versions and all my bits and pieces cut from them. After all, they hardly take up any space, and you just never know …

26 thoughts on “A packrat in writer’s clothes”

  1. I throw out the printed copies I made for editing. I didn’t used to, but the more I did it, the more it piled up.

    I save those from critique groups that have comments on them. But I’ve never thrown out a story because it wasn’t any good. At least, not yet anyway.


    1. Do you ever watch those “organizer” shows and cringe. I saw one once where the organizing expert talked a man into giving away the last painting his mother did before her death. I thought that was criminal! Unless, of course, they didn’t show that his mother was abusive and throwing away the painting was his way of breaking her hold on him.


  2. I’m a totally pack rat, both as a writer and a person (but I’m getting more organized about it). My trouble is that sometimes I forget to do a “save as” before I start to edit and I have found I’ve lost some things along the way that I wish I had. Sometimes, revising convolutes things and I’d like to revert and start again, but I can’t. Frustrating.

    If you are looking to de-clutter your real life, I suggest you check out my friend Darryle Pollack’s site, Clutter Cast. It’s such a brilliant, simple, green idea.


    1. I back up my writing in five different places and have multiple versions. So far, I haven’t deleted anything I wish I hadn’t. I probably shouldn’t have said that … 😮

      My NaHoCleMo experiment helped with my real life, and so far I’ve only wished I had one thing that I threw away and one thing that I donated.


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