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Cleaning out the Attic

We’re cleaning out the attic, a task we’ve promised ourselves we’d do before we were unable to creep and crawl around it ourselves. Our children will thank us. Anyway, no matter anyone’s age or fitness level, the attic is a challenge. This house was built in 1867, and the roof requires anyone over 5 feet to bend at the waist and beware the rusty roofing nails that jut out every couple of inches.

Last Saturday we hired one of my shorter ESL students, Elmer Jr, to help us bring down everything from the scary attic. Elmer was posted at the pull-down ladder, I carried the boxes to the ladder, and Peter was on the second floor, which he took to calling “the staging area.” A lot of the “stuff” was Peter’s old film equipment and photographs, but the greater amount was my miles and miles of manila folders, newspaper clippings, and journals that pretty much encompassed my entire “writerly life.”

For every book, there’s a folder. For every freelance assignment, there’s a folder. My first of 43 books was published in 1985, long before manuscripts were kept in files online. So the dilemma was what to keep and what to throw out. Once a book is published and has gone out of print, is there any value in saving the final manuscript? Not really, unless someone wants

to see how many revisions a book goes through. But I don’t need 43 examples of that. In fact, one or two pages is enough. So here’s what I decided to do:

1. If the book or assignment was published, I tossed out the manuscript. 2. If it wasn’t published (and every writer has a drawer of these) I kept it because who knows? 3. If there was a work-for-hire series for which I’d written many titles, I kept the Book One drafts, mostly out of nostalgia, and tossed the rest. 4. I kept the journals, 40 years worth, because that’s who I am. Maybe in another 20 years they’ll remind me of a life lived.

In the end, I probably recycled about 75% of the paper. I’m already feeling lighter, although the process of reviewing my life was an emotional rollercoaster. But that’s another blog.


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