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Writer's Trash File

Natalia J. Garland

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One of my college English professors used to tell our class that there are two kinds of writers: those who write too much, and those who write too little. Between the two, he said, the former is the luckier category. Those who write too much must go through the painful process of sacrificing unessential words, sentences, and paragraphs over which they have labored. The advantage, however, is that enough material still remains even after the verbiage and wanderings are subtracted. Those who write too little must add to their composition. That usually means doing more research and fitting it into the already existing work. The rule of arithmetic for writers is that it is easier to subtract than to add.

When I write an essay, I often write too much. I get wordy, repeat the same ideas in different ways, and complicate my sentences with awkward construction. But it is difficult not to become attached to my own creations. The written word seems tangible, like a possession. There is satisfaction in ownership. Removing phrases is like heaving my comfortable living-room sofa into the street. The process feels both heavy and empty. The result, however, is clarity and organization within the new spaces of the old form.

Although I am not a prolific writer, I have many ideas and I constantly accumulate research. I keep a To Do File which always expands beyond the confines of a normal-sized file. In paper form, I jot down ideas and notes in spiral notebooks. My definition of exhilaration is to fill the tattered yellow notebook and start the fresh purple one. Some of the ideas in my notebooks will be fully developed, some saved for later, and some used piecemeal in other essays for which they had not been destined originally.

My problem is with the ideas and notes which I save for later development. For example, this morning I cleaned out a bookshelf and found a forgotten To Do File. It consisted of seven, partially intact, spiral notebooks held together by rubber bands. I had to sift through the pages and decide if I could rekindle the inspiration to transform my notes into essays, or if I should toss everything into the street with my living-room sofa. I courageously decided to pursue a new vista of creativity. I shredded everything.

Next, I sorted my beloved computer files. There were 20 essay projects with titles and with starter research downloaded from the internet. When would I find the time to write about 20 topics which had seemed important months ago, but which needed much more research and effort? Why had I never finished those essays? That was when I remembered my English professor's wisdom: it is easier for a writer to subtract than to add. It would require tremendous exertion to complete the research and writing for 20 essays. I deleted everything.

Strangely, I felt a sense of calm when my To Do File crumbled into a Trash File. The unfinished writing had become a burden, a self-imposed duty with no joy. The topics had gone stale in my mind and I could not bring them back to a workable condition. It would be more invigorating to discover new ideas and to write new essays from scratch. By doing less, I could do more. Sometimes the only way to move forward is to lighten the load. (Written 06/21/07)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2007 Natalia J. Garland