Hoarding on the Bottom Shelf

In lieu of something new and shiny to share with you, today’s mental meandering is a re-run from November 2008. I hate to admit publicly that I’ve been contemplating some office tidying. When I say contemplating I mean staring ineffectively at the accumulation of paper that surrounds me in here. I think it has something to do with the New Year and all those ambitious ‘intentions’ that are awaiting the application of elbow grease. Whatever! It seems nobody else is likely to do anything about the mess, so I guess it’s up to me. I’m not sure I’m up to tackling the task, but I’m contemplating it. That’s a positive step, isn’t it?


My bedroom closet should be purged. It contains sizes I haven’t worn in a decade. There’s a dresser drawer full of sox I don’t wear, too. They’re in assorted eye-catching colours but I only wear black ones now. (It doesn’t matter what else I’m wearing, black is always chic.) Then there are those kitchen cupboards devoted to empty plastic containers that should be recycled, and gadgets that looked indispensable when demonstrated but have never been used.

You get the picture. I’m a hoarder. This may explain why I have in my office a virtual bottom shelf piled to capacity with printouts of successive drafts of my novels and copies of all the articles I’ve written–kept for what purpose I don’t know. After all, I have clips of the published articles neatly filed away. And you can be sure those early novel drafts will never be offered as reading material, even to uncritical family members. So why haven’t they been tossed out? My theory, if anyone happens to ask, is that writers should keep a record of their journey towards publication.

During the months (and years) while rejection slips accumulate I can take encouragement from the knowledge that what’s been sent out is far superior to the earlier versions. If proof is required I need only browse a few pages of Draft #1 and compare them to Draft #20.

As those pages collect dust on the shelf, however, I wonder if some will outlive me and my publication hopes for them. After I’m gone might someone believe these old manuscripts should be circulated? What a terrifying thought!

“… If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord myΒ drafts to take.”


Do you keep copies of all the old versions of your manuscript(s)? Or are you ruthless in eliminating every trace of them? And, the big question… why?


Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

24 thoughts on “Hoarding on the Bottom Shelf

  1. Hello Careann. I am so glad Christi Corbett reminded me again today about your blog. I am going to add you quickly before I forget. A wonderful part of this process is how many people we meet through each other.

    My goodness, I am a hoarder extrodinaire. I am so bad, I have CD discs, flash drives, an external hard drive and hard copies of everything. I had typed journals from as far back as 1975 that I scanned into the computer, and floppy discs that I converted to flash drives. My blog name came from my old journals.

    I think I never get rid of anything and I know why. Recently, I used a page from my old journals in one of my novels. It was a characterization I played with so long ago and bam … there she was when I needed her πŸ™‚

    I not only have things collecting dust in my book shelves, in my closets and in storage, I now have all the technology that helps me save every computer bite.

    Do you also have old books you read as a kid?

    Thanks for a great post πŸ™‚

    1. I think we’ve met in passing before but I’m happy to welcome you to my mess! I like your reason for saving everything. My excuse isn’t nearly as logical… when it comes to the old manuscripts it’s more a reassurance factor. When I get discouraged I can always go read an early version and see how much worse it was. I have both hard copies and digital, too. And, yes, I have a lot of my childhood books… saved for and read by children and grandchildren (and occasionally even reread by me).

  2. Carol,

    You are not alone in your hoarding of drafts.

    I’ve got a SUITCASE full of drafts of my first WIP. Yes, a suitcase. It sits on a shelf in my bedroom, taking up way too much space, but I can’t get rid of it.

    It reminds me how much work I’ve put into my writing, and how far I’ve come on the path to publication. (And, since it’s a really cool old style suitcase I can tell the hubby that I use it as a writing prop!)

    And to jump in on Florence’s comment…I have all my old books from when I was a kid and love nothing more than to dust one off and call the kids over. Judy Blume, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Nancy Drew and much more are all saved for when they get older.

    Today on my blog I featured your writing quote and put up a link back to your blog.

    Thanks again for the great comment suggestion!

    Christi Corbett

    1. A suitcase? Hmm… I kinda like that. You’ve given me an idea. I might have to haunt antique shops for a quaint trunk that could do double duty serving as manuscript storage and a coffee table in my office. Part of my interior decor. Nobody could complain about that being messy, could they?

      Thanks for the link on your blog. That Hemingway quote is a good one, isn’t it? I’ll have to thank my Aunt again, as she’s the one who drew it to my attention.

      1. Carol,

        I almost cringe as I type this…but I have a trunk full of stuff too πŸ™‚

        To clarify, it’s writing “how to” books and magazines, old journals and notebooks, and extra office supplies.

        They hold a lot…I highly recommend!

        Christi Corbett

  3. Oh I am so guilty of hanging on the some of the old versions of work. I wish I could toss them but can’t!!

    1. We pour so much of ourselves into even the earliest drafts that it’s hard to part with them. It’s a bit like asking me to give up my ratty old slippers. They’ve been with me so long and kept my toes toasty through so many experiences. They’re like old friends. πŸ˜‰

  4. I can’t believe the “neat lady” I know has developed a messy-space in plain sight!!!! Welcome to the “STUFF” club dear friend :). I put all my mess in notebooks and boxes, which is neat. . .only now there is a doorway path straight to the desk chair : / the rest of the “office” is filled with boxes and binders. Oh, I also use the blank side of my MS’s to print new stuff. . .I think it’s called “being green” πŸ™‚

    1. I knew you’d understand! Our dear old work table has piles that I’m trying to sort through but all I seem to do is move things from one pile to another. There’s no more room on my shelves, either on the bookshelf or in the supply closet, so I really do need to do something. Christi’s old suitcase idea is very appealing.

  5. While most people tend to keep things, I tend to throw things away if I’m not using them. When my husband and I moved from Florida to Texas, we opted to leave everything behind that wouldn’t fit into our mini-van. Then I felt the pain that people experience when they get rid of things they would rather keep. It was brutal. Blessings to you, Carol, as you continue your journey toward reducing accumulation of paper and other things you no longer wish to give space.

    1. An impending move does tend to make us more ruthless, although I’d probably take these old manuscripts with me anyway. Truthfully, they don’t take up as much space as my collection of “research” and “how to” articles, things I’ve printed out and just might need again some day. I’m a paper hoarder!

  6. I won’t say I am a hoarder but I do collect things and have a really hard time throwing stuff away. Not ordinary garbage that is easy. As I sit here in the den I see a paper bag full of ‘papers’ that need shredded or burned. I see assorted piles of bills paid not filed etc. Mess. The other rooms are the same. Mess. Even though I am semi retired I do day care every day other than on Fridays and by then I am tired leaving little time for ‘organizing’. My husband on the other hand is a thrower. It has been a thorn between us for 37 years. I am praying about order. I need it and I think our home does too. Please don’t think it is awful because it is very liveable just messy.

    1. The majority of my paper mess is limited to the office; the only real collection I have is practical pottery. There can be something comforting about being surrounded by a livable kind of clutter. Unfortunately I don’t work efficiently in a cluttered space so I really do have to do something more than ‘contemplate’ getting that room organized. Contemplating the whole job is overwhelming, but I’m thinking of maybe setting a few specific parts of it as daily goals over the next week.

  7. I have a few paper copies of old drafts, but I try to destroy them once they’ve been revised (again). Now that I have multiple electronic back-ups, I don’t need paper back-ups anymore, but I still like to have them around.

    1. Barbara, I hate to admit that I have multiple electronic backups as well as the paper copies — CDs and memory sticks, etc. I think it may be an old-fashioned distrust of their reliability.

  8. Great minds think alike. I’ve been organizing my paperwork for 2 days. It was getting so we had to eat at the coffee table because there was no room on the dining room table. Then I took this adorable pic of my dog — only to upload it to the computer whereupon all I saw was the stack of junk on the dining room table.

    Give it a try; there’s nothing like viewing your space through a photograph to give you a new prospective.

    1. A photograph is a great idea! It would certainly show up what needs purging, although my eyes are giving me a pretty clear message. Maybe I’ll send you a pic of my work table… that lovely black expanse of space now totally hidden and unusable as a work place. πŸ˜‰

      (I’ll bet not even ‘junk’ could detract from Bandit’s adorable self.)

  9. I haven’t saved a paper version of my work for years. Everything is either on my computer or on my flashdrive which kind of makes me nervous. Are my computer files a mess? Oh, you want to believe it. When I take parts out of my WIP I can’t just delete them, I have to save them just in case. You never know I might want to used them after all. This of course wouldn’t explain why there’s a cut scene from my draft of Bitter, Sweet, now would it? I mean really, what do I plan to do with that? Maybe that’s one file I can delete.

    1. I’ve seen technology fail often enough not to trust precious files entirely to CDs or a flash drive. I use them, and probably go overboard on backups but the reams of paper are something else again. All those versions that I’ll never look at…. I’m trying to convince myself to keep only the first and last drafts.

      I have a Word file for each novel where I deposit any deleted paragraphs or scenes, but backing those up hasn’t been a priority for me.

  10. I keep way too much paper clutter! I need to get rid of it, but I shove it back in the drawer. THen, when I go through it again, I shove back in…again. It’s not really a cycle. My paper clutter is more of a growth on the underside of my writing life! EEEP!


    I don’t know.

    I’m afraid I’ll throw away something good.
    I’m too lazy to just scan it into my computer.
    I’m just enough “old school” to think I need a paper copy.

    Not very good reasons, eh?

    1. Thanks for joining in! I’m convinced paper clutter grows like dust bunnies. I’d be happy if I had only one drawer full, but mine fills multiple shelves and stacks on my work table. The things I keep as backups are probably because of that “old school” mentality, too. Most things are already in my computer; I seem to need that hard copy “just in case.” As I said, a hoarder. πŸ˜‰

    1. That’s my excuse, too, Jen. But I’m thinking that I need to keep only the first and last drafts of each ms, not every set I printed for editing purposes along the way. It can be encouraging to see how we’ve improved… altho’ it’s also a little scary to see how really bad I used to be! LOL

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