Ian and I are getting married in just over a month. Part of our planning process has been, of course, the magic that is the gift registry and all the possibilities therein. A stand mixer! Matching towels! Pots with lids that fit! I have become a living version of Once Upon a Honeymoon.
But with the very real possibility of acquiring these awesome shiny things, we’ve been doing a lot of soul/box searching and figuring out what to get rid of to make room for the new. We’ve taken the time to assess what we want out of the next phase of our life and are getting rid of stuff that doesn’t suit the lifestyle we want to have. Sure, that black Hot Topic dress with the vinyl buckles across the front is goth-cute, but it’s not exactly something I can — or want — to wear while I’m trying to get a quote from the mayor.
And all this cleaning has been great.
It’s commonly understood that clutter = stress. Too many clothes means you can never decide what to wear. Disorganized tupperware means you waste time trying to find the right lid for your leftovers. And a folder full of unfinished stories from four years ago means you start freaking out about what to finish, paralyzing you from working on anything at all.
In addition to the clothes I took to Salvation Army (so long, ill-fitting black pants I thought would make me look like a Professional Lady) and the magazines I recycled (not spending $800 on a cake, Brides) I also went through and cleaned out a lot of old work. I treated myself to a new laptop after I sold The Big Rewind, and in moving things over, I gave careful thought to what I wanted to focus on in this next stage of my writing career…and realized that, even if I did want to write a memoir about the interconnection of boys and movies in my life, I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it with schlock I wrote in grad school. Without a second thought, the folder got deleted. Sure, there were some great lines in a story I started about going bowling, but that story had sat, untouched, since I started it six years ago. It probably was never going to get finished, and anyways, I couldn’t remember the intent.
We are writers can be very afraid of letting go, as though the words might never come again. We tell everyone else to “Kill Your Darlings” until we are blue in the face, but have trouble doing it ourselves.
I’m not suggesting writers destroy everything but their current projects. I have a whole trunk full of old notebooks and used a terrible fantasy story I wrote in 10th grade at my AWP panel presentation. But for that one notebook — covered in Pokemon stickers and Rent quotes — that got saved, two others got thrown out. I spared that one because it showed so much of where I had been, where I had come from as a writer. The others? Not so much. Into the recycling bin, next to the back issues of Brides.
So here’s an exercise. Go through your folders — physical or digital — and get rid of five pieces. Maybe it’s a story you wrote in high school that embarrasses you now. Maybe it’s an essay you know you will never finish or a poem you never got around to really starting. Let them go and trust that the idea, the heart of the piece, will always be there in the back of your mind.
As a result of all this cleaning and organizing, I feel much less overwhelmed and can sit down at my cleared-off kitchen table to write on a laptop that’s not bogged down with stories I will finish sometime after never. I trust that the words will come back to me just as I trust that even if six months down the line, I need a plaid blazer, I’ll be able to find one again. New words. A better fitting blazer. Pots and pans with fitted lids. All these things can be found again….but chances are, you won’t miss them.