When you’ve been writing and publishing for a while, and especially if you started in the Stone Age, back before Cloud storage and more reliable backups were invented, you tended to accumulate paper: Plain rough drafts, marked up rough drafts, galleys, proof pages, the occasional hand-written manuscript (which technically is the only real manuscript there is) , contracts, copies of preliminary illustrations, you name it. I was no different. I think at that time I had some vague idea of shipping it off some day to some equally vague university collection that wanted that kind of thing. I even used to sign and date first drafts of stories before I filed them away, if you can believe that. Yes, it was that bad.
The paradigm, needless to say, has shifted. Other than contracts—and not all of them—most of what used to be on paper is either on redundant thumb drives or burned to DVD and/or cloud storage and moved from computer to computer as needed. There are no second third fourth drafts because it’s all one file, and good luck sorting out the tracked changes. Yes, I know, thank you Captain Obvious.
What wasn’t so obvious, at least to me, was the extent to which I was still accumulating paper. This was brought home to me by the fact that, whether we move or not, I just have too much stuff. Trying to find an unrelated item in your horizontal files and not being able to dig through the piles of manuscript papers rather emphasizes the fact. Particularly, useless paper that served its purpose but no longer has one, and why was I holding on to it? That vague university collection? Please. My bubble wasn’t so much popped as slowly lost its inflated ego over the years. It just became a habit. All those novel submission copies that went to my then agents and eventually came home. All those submission copies of short stories, all those proof pages long since corrected. No one needs or wants this stuff. Even our local recycler only takes cardboard and newsprint. More to the point, I don’t need it, and I’m having trouble even remembering why I thought I did.
It’s time to purge. Contracts stay, of course. And there are one or two old typewritten manuscripts that I’ll probably keep simply because I have trouble believing how physically awful manuscripts were back then, and a reminder now and then doesn’t hurt when I’m tempted to scream obscenities at my wonderful computer. There are even a few manuscripts that don’t have an electronic version, and I may need to look at them again some day. Yeah, I know. Stone Age. But otherwise? My file cabinets are about to get a lot lighter.