My guest room is a mess. Every surface is covered with piles of papers, notebooks, magazines, and miscellaneous odds & ends. That wasn’t the plan: the plan was for me to take my house reorganizing and culling in small, bite-sized portions. I was really only planning to sort through one, maybe two boxes this month.
But the next thing I knew, I’d pulled out several storage bins and boxes, some of which I had never unpacked from our move five (!) years ago. If I was going to tackle papers, my thought process went, I was going to tackle them all at once.
So now I’ve spent a couple of evenings picking through high school report cards, preschool workbooks my parents had kept and passed along to me, college notebooks, sketchbooks…and old writing notebooks.
It’s a general rule of thumb that writers shouldn’t toss their old writings. You never know when you’ll stumble on some useful nugget or old idea that could spark something new. Everything gets tossed into the bubbling stew pot that is a writer’s imagination, so we can let it simmer for a bit and then pick up our ladles and go fishing for that perfect morsel.
So far, the sentimental poetry, awkward sentences, and poorly-constructed worlds of my teen years are inspiring more embarrassment than fresh new ideas. Still, it’s a fun walk down Memory Lane, watching myself try to figure out this whole Writing Thing. And there are moments when the light shines through.
There’s an old writer’s adage (usually attributed to Ray Bradbury) that goes “The first million words don’t count.” It’s a helpful reminder when I think of all the time and effort I’ve put into stories that I tossed in the trunk and never touched again. There’s a lot of writing that never sees the light of day but is still us learning and practicing our craft, slowly getting better until we finally start writing things that aren’t half bad.
I don’t know when I reached a literal million words, but I do know that the writings in these notebooks were me keeping at it, slowly getting better: sometimes stumbling, sometimes sitting for a long time but getting up anyway and trying again. I’d forgotten about a lot of these early poems and barely-started teenage novels, but they’re there, all bricks in the road getting me to where I am now.
I guess this is just me saying that I’m glad for the journey, and glad that my younger self persisted.