In Praise of the Writing Pack Rat

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By Glynn Young

I admit it. When it comes to writing, I’m a pack rat.

I keep everything: blog posts that never saw the light of day, book reviews I wrote 13 years ago, ideas that I excitedly wrote down and then rejected later, emails I’ve sent to readers explaining something that might have been confusing, whole manuscripts, partial manuscripts, and fragments of stories that might (one day) become something more. I’ve kept scenes I’ve cut from my novels to shorten them or because they really added nothing to the story. I bookmark online articles that I want to read and refer to again.

I don’t do these things in hopes of leaving my literary estate to a university. I do them because I’m a writer. Ideas and inspiration come from everywhere and all the time. I save, I file, and I hope I remember.

Recently, I went through a file that I hadn’t looked at in more than three years. It concerns a manuscript that I worked on rather erratically from about 2007 to 2018, and then set aside. Other projects, including a couple of published books, required attention. But as I tried to find a document that I needed for a current project, I saw the project folder. It contained six documents: three versions of the manuscript, including the very earliest one from 2007; a two-paragraph document entitled “Beach Scene,” and a 10-page document called “Houston.”

That file contains a four-page document simply labeled “Contest.” There’s nothing in the document to indicate which contest, but it is a scene from the manuscript worked over and revised a multitude of times. It could be a standalone short story. When I compared it to the scene it was lifted from in the original manuscript, I could see it was infinitely better than the first draft. I was so surprised that my first reaction was, “I wrote this?”

I’ve found at least three advantages for being a writing pack rat.

First, manuscripts that are discarded or set aside can provide fresh inspiration. A narrative thread in my current work-in-progress was borrowed from a manuscript that’s never seen the light of day. I didn’t exactly plunder the thread wholesale, but I borrowed the idea, reshaped it, and worked it into the current story.

Second, old documents can show you how far you’ve come as a writer. I might look at older manuscripts or fragments and cringe, but then I look at where I am now. Those older and never used stories are an important part of your writing career. They can tell you where you started and where you changed or made a significant shift.

Third, unused or unpublished manuscripts might be good enough to revise into a new writing effort. This one file I found, in fact, will be my next work-in-progress. It needs considerable work, but the core idea and the characters still work for a story, some 14 years after they were first created.

Almost all my pack rat habits are confined to my desktop computer; electronic word processing makes this easy. But I also use a journal that I usually carry everywhere, for jotting down ideas, questions, and topics I need to research. My most recent journal entry is an entire scene in a story I was away from home when I realized I needed to add something significant. Over the years, my journals have come to occupy a chunk of a bookcase shelf, proving that digital takes up less space.

So, yes, I am and proud, and often grateful, writing pack rat.

Are you a writing pack rat? Should you consider becoming one? “In Praise of the Writing Pack Rat” @gyoung9751 #ACFWBlogs #writetip #critiques #ACFWCommunity Click To Tweet

Glynn Young is a national award-winning speechwriter, communications practitioner, and novelist. He’s the author of four published novels, Dancing PriestA Light ShiningDancing King, and Dancing Prophet;  and Dancing Prince; and the non-fiction book Poetry at Work.   Visit Glynn on FacebookTwitterLinkedInPinterest, his blog, the Dancing Priest book page, and his business website.

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