My December blog, RING OUT THE OLD, drew scores of intriguing confessions from readers about items they insist on saving, ranging from cocktail napkins with lipstick smears (!) to the dead fuses a Yonkers woman discovered her husband was hoarding. The most common favorite seems to be matchbook covers, hopefully with the matches removed.
My award for oddest item goes to Warren, a displaced New Yorker now living in Florida. A World War Two veteran, Warren recalls than upon being discharged he was permitted to keep his pistol. Even though he stored it on a top shelf in a closet, he was uneasy having a gun in the house (would that more Americans felt that way!). So he turned in the gun at a local police station and was given a receipt. Some 70 years later no one is likely to ask for the gun, but Warren still keeps the faded receipt preserved in a safe deposit box in the bank!
For writers like myself, what we are reluctant to part with is the phrase, sentence or – Muse forbid! – entire chapter, that we discover is wrong for the story. Canadian author Margaret Atwood says she was halfway through writing one of her novels when she realized she was on the wrong track and had to start over. “That’s Tylenol time,” she says.
I ran into a similar trauma when writing my latest book, ROLE PLAY, the fictitious story of an actor. Since I used to be in the theatre in my “other life,” I had dozens of anecdotes I was eager to include. One was about an actor resentful of being cast in a minor role in a production of Summer and Smoke. In his one scene the stage direction read: “Vernon sits.” But that wasn’t enough for this man. He huffed and puffed his way into the chair so dramatically it slid off the platform and left him lopsidedly dangling his legs in the air. (I still remember trying to keep a straight face in view of the hysterical audience!) As amusing as the anecdote is, I had to face the fact that it interrupted an important flow of the chapter. In other words, OUT ! People who don’t agonize over this type of editorial surgery would simply delete. But being a compulsive saver, I created a haven for him (and similar outcasts) in a REJECTS file. Then optimistically added: TEMPORARY.
Months later, I was able to rescue that poor man with his legs dangling in the air, when I added another chapter to the book in which the heroine reminisces about her days in the theatre. He fit into those pages as if he belonged there. However, to be honest, I didn’t just resurrect him. I revised him, trimming what I now realized was unnecessary fat from the anecdote and sharpening the lines. That’s the positive side of the saving coin, for invariably I discover ways a piece can read better.
Actually, I got the idea of how to part with some of my precious words from poet Colette Inez. In a workshop I was fortunate to have with her, she confided that it was painful to part with phrases she thought too beautiful to give up, but that were wrong for the poem. So she decided to store them in a drawer especially reserved for this purpose and, hopefully, use the deletes in a later poem.
Perhaps we should each find a large box to store items we know there’s no rational reason to keep, but that we can’t bear to part with. Looking at them a month or year later may make you realize you didn’t even miss them.
P.S. Saving is also useful with angry letters we write. Putting them on hold, rather than rushing to mail, can result in calmer rewrites and preserve many an endangered relationship!
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BOOKS: ROLE PLAY – CreateSpace.com & Amazon.com. Also Amazon Kindle. WIDOW’S WALK available through iUniverse.com; “TURNING TOWARD TOMORROW” – Xlibris.com; TEN WOMEN OF VALOR – -CreateSpace.com, Amazon.com; Amazon Kindle.