Sunday, May 5, 2013

Words On Fire

I live in southern California, in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains. Which means that, although I was not directly in the fire zone this weekend as chaos broke out with the Springs Fire, my house and car were covered in ash, and the sky was a combination of Halloween orange and black in the mountains above my home. Not native to California, I resisted until this week the notion of considering what I would take with me should the order to evacuate be issued. All of a sudden I realized: if I can't lay hands on it in a hurry, it's potentially going down in flames. What to save?

Ironically I have been attempting to conquer a terrible clutter habit over the past few months. I've had to accept the fact that sloth has kept me surrounded by crap I do not need, do not want, and do not even like. But my writing?

Unfortunately, yes. I am buried in mountains of half-baked plots, poems whose stanzas will never be complete, short stories whose characters even I loathe. Why? Why am I so wedded to sheltering these unwanted inhabitants in my home? And how can I let them go?

I have a friend, a successful journalist turned novelist, who told me years ago that stories that are perpetual struggle will never succeed. For a long time I resisted this notion. Why not keep every word I've ever written - after all, maybe I can recycle it ....

The road to the recycling center is, alas, far too often paved with goods no one would want. Just like my notebooks. I'm grateful the fire spared my home - thank you to the best firefighters in the world - and gave me the chance to kill my little darlings on my own. And that's what I'm doing: hitting the delete button so to speak, pitching the old so I can welcome the new.

What about you? Do you keep every word you've ever written? Would you save every draft should the order to evacuate be issued?

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