I was born in a communistic country which lacked the necessary resources, let alone fancy things, so from my early childhood I developed a specific perspective towards everyday objects. When an adult is allowed only 1kg (half a pound) of sugar per month, the queues for toilet paper weave longer than those for the ticket of a famous band, and the shop shelves are as empty as they would be after zombie apocalypse, anything you come across might become your next treasure.
A shoe box, wrapped up in a piece of a decorative paper you got from your uncle or with tissue paper glued over it becomes a jewelry box, and an old laced tablecloth might become your fancy scarf as soon as you put some nice embroidery over the wine stains. Yes, communistic times definitely taught me how to re-purpose things, and even though I’ve embraced capitalism and all the material goods it brings, my mindset had never changed and I still look at old and broken things the same way. They can be altered. They can be fixed. They can be made into something new and exciting.
This perspective sneaks up on me and affects all the aspects of my life. Among other things, I’ve remade old jeans (back when I still wore jeans) into handbags, used leftover vegetables and meat to make a hearty stew, and made my pen holder out of cereal box (even though I could buy one for less than $5), so it’s no wonder I have similar approach when it comes to writing.
I write a lot of things, and since I’ve joined 365 Writing Club committing to put down 1000 words a day, I’ve been writing even more. Some of it is lacking originality or good style, and will never get out of the proverbial drawer, but I never press delete. My hard drive is big enough to hold an intricate folder structure of ideas, abandoned projects, unfinished thoughts, and other random texts, and I’ve learned that you never know what will become your next great story.
Recently my eyes skimmed past one of the files and I opened it out of curiosity. It turned out I’ve stumbled upon a stream of consciousness written some years ago, on a quite emotional night. As you can guess, most of the writing in there wasn’t very good since I focused on getting my grief out, not creating the Next Bestseller Memoir, but a thought of deleting it never crossed my mind. Among the emotional blabber I’ve found some brilliant sentences I’d definitely like to re-purpose, and on top of that I’ve also realized how much my style had changed. How much better I became at writing.
I won’t lie, most of the sentences in that file made me go “UGH!”, but I still didn’t press delete. Even if I can’t re-purpose my writing, it still might spark some idea in the future, and who knows, maybe my grumpy mood will give birth to a plot twist or an emotional scene.
You might be thinking that with my adversity to deleting things, my revision process must be hell, but it’s not that bad. I have no problem obliterating nasty sentences and replacing them with words woven together in a more intricate way, I really don’t. Well, as long as it’s a sentence, not a whole paragraph or a page (or a whole chapter), because these go straight to a separate file, usually titled “outtakes”. Even though I know I won’t need them anymore, I still keep them. You know, just in case. Especially when writing itself is good, but I don’t need the scene anymore or it can be shortened to a paragraph-long description in another scene. With multiple revisions and rewrites it might turn out in the future that I’ll need to put that scene back or use pieces of dialogue somewhere else, and it’s easier to re-insert already written bits tweaking them when necessary than it is to write something from scratch.
There’s also another reason to never delete your writing: good or bad, it shows your effort. If you keep deleting all the pages you’ve written, at the end of the week or the month you feel like you have nothing, and that you haven’t been working hard enough even though you’ve spent hours writing those deleted scenes.
Every time I wander through the folders on my laptop, I find some awful writing in there, but I also find hidden gems. Some of them only make my day brighter, some become serious projects since in the past I’ve found stories hiding in a single sentence.
How about you? Do you delete old stories? Or are you like me and you hoard every single file?
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.