Recently I tweeted about throwing away my rough drafts, and how posterity might frown on such a practice. The more thought I gave the subject, the more I concluded that tossing those old scribbled up legal pad pages isn’t such a bad idea.
However, I have writer friends who save every scrap that they’ve ever scrawled upon. “You never know when you might need to look back at your prior thought processes,” they defend, and while I see the point, I can’t help favoring efficiency and space over reflection. I wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I believed that everything had to be preserved “just in case.” I was well on my way to being the subject of a “Hoarders” episode.
These days, I’m a bit more pragmatic in my approach. Everything will eventually be dust anyway, so why not give myself some mental room and clarity? I’m not a fully devoted practitioner of feng shui, but I do see the merit in having “flow” in my surroundings. A bunch of old chicken-scratched drafts won’t help my process anymore than having a mulch pile in the middle of my writing room. Both are about equal in function.
Lest the reader think I’m a minimalist, allow me to clarify: If something adds beauty or merit, then it should stay. This is true in poetry as in life — lots of professors believe that adjectives and adverbs are tools of Satan, and in some cases, they are. They add fluff and window-dressing, often where none is needed. However, just as the writing room demands certain little accoutrements to make it home, so too does the poem. An occasional descriptive won’t kill the bigger message or theme, no matter what Dr. Killdarlings says.
The issue of tossing out drafts and prewriting is personal to every writer. Those of us with visions of Ken Burns documentaries based on our lives may hold on to those ugly reminders in the hopes that our penmanship, like that of Sandburg or Frost, will be looked upon as history. But for this writer, I’d rather people remember the final version. Time to go take out the trash.