December 7, 2008

"Respect" by Amy Leasure

One thing I've heard a lot lately from writers is that they get frustrated with their work and throw it away using various methods of destruction including, but not limited to: burning, shredding, ripping, and tossing.

You know in t.v. shows when someone says something really foul or offensive in a restaurant and the music stops and everyone turns around and gasps? That's precisely how I feel when a writer tells me they throw away their work.

Wood is for burning, guitars and mozzarella cheese are meant to be shredded, pies are meant to be ripped apart ferociously, and basketballs are to be tossed. Not your writing.

When someone says that they threw away their work it tells me that they do not respect what they are writing. Maybe not everything you write will be of literary quality, but the IDEAS that lead to your writing are valuable and deserve to be respected, by you. Once you destroy the words that came to you after your idea, you may never remember or be able to recall that idea again. Something you wrote ten years ago may be exactly what you need today. By destroying your work, you aren't valuing the time set aside in your life that it took to write those words.

Ideas change the world. You hold, on paper, ideas that may be able to change the world...if you keep them.

Let's take the example of the poet Sylvia Plath. Even though Sylvia took her own life via the kitchen oven, she did not destroy her own work. The woman valued and respected her work even when she couldn't value her own life.

I personally store all of my work in a really pretty Fuji water box in a deep filing cabinet, or special pieces in hat boxes with my love letters. I keep all copies of peer edited work that has been workshopped until I edit the piece to my satisfaction. I value what others have to say about my work. I may notice a trend in what people are telling me needs work, so in the future I can understand and remember that I have a trouble area and I might need to work harder in one area, or pay closer attention to what I'm doing with another.

Even if you aren't a sentimental paper collector like me, there are ways to store your writing electronically. In fact, I suggest storing them in several ways concurrently.

  • The first way to store an item electronically is on your computer's hard-drive.
  • The second thing I do is email a copy of my work to myself. Yes, you can email yourself. All you have to do is insert your own email in the "to" field of your "compose message" box. Sometimes I even send the copy to two of my emails. When attaching a file, I also "copy and paste" a copy of my text in the body of the email. That way, if there is a problem with the attached file itself, you still have your writing in the body of the email. You may have to go back through and re-do your format, but sending your email as both text and an attached file virtually assures you you will have a safe copy of your work.
  • If you aren't the type to keep scraps of paper around, you can use a scanner to "upload" pictures of your writing and keep it in digital format. That way, you can feel safe to toss your original copies to save space. Back these files up in several ways. I carry around a USB stick in my purse that holds copies of my work, in case my computer is lost, if I get drunk some night and decide to change my email password and can't remember the next day (I've done this before), or if God-forbid, my home or belongings ever catch on fire.
  • Lastly, if you think you have something of value that someone may want to steal or copy, mail a copy of your work to yourself via the post office. Do not open the letter. Keep it in a safe spot (safety deposit box or other fireproof area). If you ever end up in court defending the copyright of your work, a judge can open the letter in court and know you are the original and first writer because of the postmark. I've only done this once in my life, and that was when I was in college. I wanted to "copyright" a philosophy paper/theory that I wrote because I thought I had an idea that was really original and innovative. I haven't found the need to do it with any other writing, but that is always an option if you are nervous about your work.

I'm going to end with a somewhat separate thought: I think it's important for those of us in workshop settings to value and respect other people's work and ideas. Even if you don't like their work, it is important not to intentionally hurt their feelings (I'm not saying lie if their work needs work, I'm saying use constructive criticism). Torches are for welding and summer tiki parties. Don't mentally set fire to someone's ideas when they bring them to a workshop. They are sharing a very intimate part of themselves and obviously value and respect your opinion.

Your words and your ideas are powerful. Writers' get rejected enough, they don't need it from their peers.

It's a respect thing.


At December 9, 2008 at 4:29 PM , Blogger Marilyn said...

Years ago, when I first started sending manuscripts to publishers, I was rejected twice, with two different stories. I decided right there and then that I wasn't any good and threw those manuscripts away. (This was long before computers.)

Now 20 plus published books, and several unpublished later, how I wish I had those first manuscripts. Though they probably aren't very good, bet I could make them much better.

Amy is right, don't throw your precious words away.


At December 10, 2008 at 10:06 AM , Blogger Dorinda Ohnstad said...


At one point I lost track of the original version of my current WIP. It was saved on a floppy disk. (You're probably too young to remember those. Ah, the innocence of youth.) After my fellow KC Writers members told me I should go back and review it again, I was able to locate it after a bit of searching. While I didn't find anything that I felt I could use in my current manuscript, I did find value in seeing how much I had grown as a writer.

When I first started my manuscript, I hadn't studied the craft of writing, wasn't involved in a critique group, etc. In other words, I was a true novice. Every now and then I like to read an excerpt of the original version to reassure myself that I'm moving in the right direction. I now have it stored on my newest computer and to a external drive, so that I won't misplace it again. That way, every time I need a positive boost, I have it there.

While I didn't think that original writing deserved to live on, I have found an external useful use for it. I once provided a sample of my "then" and "now" writing to a newer member of our writing group who suffered from some of the same "novelitis" that I had. She found it very helpful. It was a better teaching tool than simply pointing out the problems she was making in her own writing. It also made her feel better about the criticism she was receiving, realizing that it truly was intended to help her craft better writing.

At December 27, 2008 at 9:07 PM , Blogger Amy Leasure said...

I remember floppy disks! I'm not four!


It was a long time ago, though. I was about 16 when we stopped using them.

At January 8, 2009 at 8:06 AM , Blogger June Rodriguez said...

Very helpful info Amy. I didn't know about the copyright thing and who knows I may one day be thinking of you as I mail something to myself. I have another suggestion. Everyone should keep a copy of their blog posts as well. Make a separate folder and put on a memory stick or e-mail it to yourself like you said. Your posts are your writing as well. Give them the credit they deserve.


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