Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Keeping it clean

Normally, I don't think of myself as a pack rat. When it comes to getting clothing ready for the year-end donation to the Salvation Army, I'm ruthless; if I haven't worn it in a year, it goes (wedding dress excepted). Same with books: if I haven't referred to a book for a year or so, it goes to the public library. Magazines and other home-related paraphernalia must pass the same weeding-out criterion. My husband says he looks to me help him sort through all his stuff as we get ready for the next phase of our lives, which will involve leaving this house and moving to a new one.

But when it comes to writing, I may just be a pack rat after all.

I've reached this tenative conclusion after two-plus days of solid cleaning and discarding. Last night I carted 10 garbage bags to our dumpster. Among the items I found as I conducted The Great Purge:
-- Copies of invoices to clients that I printed on a dot-matrix printer in mid-1989;
-- Phone directories from 2002;
-- The official papers that confirm my separation from Federal Government service in 1981 and allow me to re-enter Federal service if I should ever want another job with the Feds (I don't anticipate that, but you never know, right? Uh-huh.);
-- Bank statements from an account I closed a decade ago;
-- An article called "Unrealized Ambitions" that I wrote for The Washington Post in 1998 (I'm keeping that one. After all, it led to a "Quotable Quote" in Reader's Digest. I'm not keeping another piece, "Slumber Party Survival," though).
-- The very first query I sent for a pet article. I'm keeping that one, too, for totally sentimental reasons.
-- Magazines that go back as far as 10 years.

Why did I hold onto all this stuff? In part it's because, in the early years of my freelance writing career, I had to. Those were the days when you had to snail-mail hard copy clips to editors so that they could see you actually had the stuff to write the article you were proposing. And I kept invoices -- back when I still sent them snail mail -- just so that I had an indisputable record of who was supposed to pay me when.

Those days, of course (and thankfully), are long gone. I bless the day that email became the communication method of choice and the day that one could simply link to one's clips on the web and email those links to an editor. The flip side of such convenience, of course, is that the editor I'm pitching may well expect me to allow such online re-publication without paying me any extra money. Writers fought against that practice, but that fight was lost long ago.

But now, my office is clean and clutter-free for the first time in God-knows-how-many years. I'd forgotten how big my desk actually is until I removed the piles of papers and books that covered it. Heck, I'd forgotten how big my entire office is. It's become a haven again, a room of my own, a place where I can dive anew into what I do best: writing.

I just gotta keep it clean.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, Susan, good luck with that.
Linda Rehkopf (working on a dog book project of my own that requires I keep piles of references -- books and magazines -- surrounding my tight circle where my office chair spins)

Susan said...

Actually, nearly three weeks later, it's still clean. Of course, I'm not working on a book project at the moment ;-)