Letting Go

Thankfully I survived what I’m affectionately calling the move from hell. Without internet for nearly a week, without time to think, let alone write, after carloads upon carloads of boxes, my husband and I are now officially moved into our new home. After getting the kitchen and computer set up, I immediately focused my efforts on the bedroom we’d be using as an office. Naturally.

I had boxed up all my books from the apartment and I had four Rubbermaid tubs full of books from my childhood home that I picked up on my road trip back in April. And now, with the new home, I had a dedicated space for everything. I sorted, stacked, and reminisced as I pulled out tomes ranging from Dr. Seuss to Claude Levi-Strauss.

In the bottom of one of the tubs from my dad’s house, I had stashed a bunch of notebooks from high school and college. I’ve already confessed to being a packrat, and in true form, I’ve kept all my school notes, reports, what-have-you from about eighth grade through college.

I’m not exactly sure where the compulsion to do so came from. Maybe I liked having tangible evidence of everything I learned in school. Or maybe it was just the reassurance of being able to refer to their contents later on. At some point I decided I was holding onto those materials just in case. In case I needed them as fodder for the stories I’d write one day. Last week as I leafed through the faded materials, tracked my handwriting across the years, I realized I didn’t need to hold onto these things any longer.

I pulled out a few handouts, kept a couple of sections of notes, but what I deemed worth keeping was only a fraction of what I’ve collected over the years. The rest of the stuff will be unceremoniously dumped in the trash. But I have to ask myself why now. Why was I able to let go of these materials now? A couple of years ago the mere thought of discarding these items would have sent me into conniptions. So what is it about this point in my life?

I think it’s because I’m writing now instead of just dreaming about it. For example, I’ve kept every book I’ve bought or been gifted. Now that I’m writing seriously, I’ve revisited old favorites and analyzed others with new, writerly eyes. I also collected notebooks for years, but never wrote in them. Once I started taking myself seriously, suddenly it was ok for me to write on the hallowed pages.

And I think the same thing has happened with my old school materials. They were my security blanket, my just in case. I kept everything because I didn’t know what would be useful to me in the future. Now, though I understand better what resources I do and don’t need.

I don’t need them to help me in research as I’m confident in my abilities to find the information I need without digging through decades of school materials. Thanks, internet.

I don’t need my old notes for inspiration. I have that in spades from other sources.

And I don’t need them to hold onto the past. Not anymore.

I’m moving on.

What kind of things have you been holding onto in anticipation of following your dreams? What’s your just in case and the tools you need for it?

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Version Control

I’m a bit of a packrat. I tend to imbue everyday objects with far more meaning than they probably warrant. I hold onto ticket stubs from concerts and movies, cards I receive on birthdays and other holidays, rocks I find on hikes… And don’t get me started on books – I like to think it’s my responsibility to “save” books from bargain bins, garage sales, Book Crossing waypoints…um, yeah.

And then there’s my writing. I do a lot of my writing by hand, so I hold onto all the notebooks filled with my crabbed penmanship. Stacks of them. Then I usually print out hard copies for editing, and I keep those too. I haven’t quite figured out a good system for organizing them, but now is the time since my husband are moving into our first home next week. His solution would be to get rid of them all, but I simply can’t. What if my laptop dies or is stolen? What if my files are corrupted by an evil virus, and the printouts are the only record of my genius – ahem – stories?

Speaking of electronic files, my writing folder is called “Works in Progress”:

Looks nice and neat, right? But don’t be fooled. Within this folder, entropy is winning out despite my efforts to instill order. “Misc Writing Ideas” is just a catchall for every project not big enough to deserve its own folder. Um, that’s actually not true either – there are some projects far enough along that need their own folder but I haven’t gotten to it yet. Right now, the folder has everything from snippets and abandoned story ideas to “finished” stories. Needless to say it can get a bit scary in there.

Then there’s the “Medieval Book” folder – that’s where my historical romance novel lives in all its various permutations. In other words, there are a lot of files in there. Since I’ve been working on this particular project for so long, my file naming conventions have changed over time, which doesn’t help matters. In addition to at least 10 versions of the full manuscript and an untold number of early partials, I also have a half-dozen documents that are just different versions of Chapter One since it took so many iterations to get my opening right. Not to mention all the primary sources and research tidbits I’ve collected over the years.

Now that I’ve entered a few contests and sent out a couple of queries, there’s even more files to contend with. I have a 4-page and a 2-page synopsis, and I’ll need to come up with a one pager at some point as well. There’s a handful of query letters all addressed and tailored for different purposes. I have a bunch of different writing samples too – the first 10 pages, the first chapter, the first 20 pages, the first 30 pages, and the first 50 pages – all of which were required for various submission guidelines for agents and contests.

Since I’m just at the start of my agent search, I need to come up with a better way to keep my submission materials organized. It doesn’t help that I keep refining my story. But for me, it took getting to the agent search phase for this project to realize I’m never going to get to a point where I will be done – there’s no definitive version of my story and probably won’t be until it finds its way into print (fingers crossed). As Oscar Wilde said:

“Books are never finished, they are merely abandoned.”

But for now, I keep everything. I’m so terrified that I’ll delete something or make a change in one version of the file only to realize later I want to restore the original wording. Then the difficulty lies in navigating all the old files I’m too stubborn to delete and try to locate the half-remembered phrasing I want to reincorporate. The old wording is rarely merits all this trouble, but I can’t let go of the possibility that one time it will be worth it.

Back when I had a day job, our office would have long meetings about file naming conventions, file folder organization (physical and electronic), and how to perform edits on a document with multiple authors. Those tedious, nitpicky conversations would drive me up the wall. But now that it’s my files, my writing, I want to get it right.

How do you keep your files, be they electronic or physical, organized? What helps you keep different versions of your work straight?

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