Thursday, June 23, 2011

Are Writers Hoarders?

Cricket McRaeStuff3

Have you ever seen the A&E television series Hoarders? I’ve seen it only twice, but both times it was downright horrific to see how much stuff the subjects had. Some was sentimental stuff, and some was, to my eye, just stuff. But not to theirs.

Also called disposophobia, hoarding is characterized by the excessive acquisition of particular items and then not using them – or ever getting rid of them. It doesn’t matter if the things have no value or even if they’re dangerous – like, say, chicken carcasses – or have no explainable sentimentality.

Hoarding may be a variation of obsessive-compulsive disorder, though professional opinions are mixed. In the two episodes I witnessed, there was an undercurrent of something more like sadness, of trying to reclaim or keep something gone forever, an avoidance of inevitable change.

It’s serious business, and I don’t want to make light of it, but it occurred to me that, in a way, I’m a hoarder.

Not in most ways, or even expectable ways. I’m always trying to get rid of clutter – with varied success, granted, but I’m trying. Though I spin and knit, my “stash” is woeful and pathetic compared to other fiber artists, taking up one five-foot cabinet in the basement. Only a paltry dozen cookbooks march along the kitchen shelf, And as an avid gardener, I don’t subscribe to any gardening magazines, buy whippy new tools, and on trips to the nursery tend to buy only what I can plant the same day.

In short, I’m a failure as a hoarder – until it comes to writing.

I still have everything I’ve ever written. Everything. Crappy high school poetry, the beginnings of manuscripts, half-finished love letters, a teetering stack of handwritten notebooks from a decade of daily morning pages. Successive iterations of novels, essays for classes, workshop exercises, and classmate comments on workshop exercises.

There are snippets of dialog, funky names, particular phrases or ways of saying something that struck me as unique but currently unusable. These might come in handy some day. And, in fact, some have. 

Then there are are the things I’ve only thought about:  ideas scratched on the back of printed mapquest directions that crop up in the car, receipts and unopened junk mail. Scribbled pages of “thoughts,” “essay possibilities” and “what ifs."

Know why they never made it further than a first thought? They’re silly, vapid, unformed, or even worse, dull.

Except for the unformed – which may turn out to be silly, vapid or dull upon becoming fully formed – they should all go away. AWAY. They aren’t worth keeping.

But I do keep them. What if they have some unrealized value? Can I remember what sparked that thought? What if I could use a variation of this? So back it goes, into the file cabinet or box or notebook or computer backup. Yet I’d be mortified if a bus mowed me down, and someone wandered through my writing files and saw what I’d saved.

Do you hoard ideas? Old writing? Other things?


DorisRose MacBean said...

Thanks for the interesting post. As I writer, I can completely understand. However, I have no more clue than you about'why'we do this.
I'm not it would qualify in the diagnostic realm...but for many, hoarding is frighteningly real.

Beth Groundwater said...

My husband and are are gradually moving into our smaller retirement home in Breckenridge, so I've been mercilessly getting rid of stuff. Our latest project is to reduce 3 file cabinets of paperwork down into 2.

Tracy said...

HA! You are my long lost twin! I spin, knit (with a paltry stash). I love to garden and cook as well. But writing is my through and through passion that trumps everything else, even eating sometimes.

Sadly I don't have all the things I have ever written and there are times when I wish could just pull out that old poem from senior year.

I find my organization as a writer leaves A LOT to be desired as well. I am getting better and have devised a way to keep everything organized on my computer at least.

That Hoarders show makes me sad. Truly sad.

Lois Winston said...

Cricket, when I was about 11 years old, I wrote "The Midnight Ride of Goblins and Ghosts," cribbing from the Longfellow poem about Paul Revere. I've often wished I had that. Sadly, my parents weren't the sentimental sort and never saved any of their kids' schoolwork. Anything I had saved, they tossed when we moved from the city to the suburbs or later while I was off at college. I probably could have put my own kids through college on the original Barbie doll and Shirley Temple doll and all those baseball cards I'd collected and saved in a dresser drawer. :-(

Robin Allen said...

Oh, yes, I hoard my writing: ideas, false starts (the bulk of the collection), revisions, retries, etc. Thank goodness most of it takes up only bytes on the computer.

I'm a knitter too! Since the 5th grade. My stash isn't too large, compared to some, but there's a lot of yarn that's been around for a while. Some day I'll make something from it.

Keith Raffel said...

Cricket, you need to run for president. Those writings would be great for future presidential scholars to pore over!

Cricket McRae said...

Hi, DorisRose. I doubt we'd qualify as truly ill. At least I hope not!

Beth, my parents used to always say three moves were as good as a fire (we moved a lot). Good luck!

Tracy: Yay, another crafter/writer! I recently read an old poem from senior year. It was cringeworthy. No doubt yours were better. ;)

Oh, Lois, I had a couple of those original Barbies with the painted hair, too. We gave them away. Sigh.

Robin -- another knitter! I recently read a suggestion to scan hard copies of notes, etc. and keep everything digitally so it takes up less space. Sounds like you already have that under control.

Keith, I'm afraid your suggestion would mean the demise of the entire American political system...

Marji Laine - Faith Driven Fiction said...

Oh I would never get rid of my old writings. I have had the chance to read through some of my grandfather's poetry, my dad's lyrics, even a great grandmother's stories and letters. They all probably hated, but hoarded their work, too, and I'm so grateful for the glimpse into their lives and legacy!

Deborah Sharp said...

I still have a grade school report I wrote on Scotland, so I quess I do qualify as a writing hoarder. But I also tend to throw out earlier drafts of my books (typically, not until I recycle them by printing out the more recent drafts on the back), so I guess I'm not totally hopeless at discarding junk. PS: Very impressed that you have so few cookbooks. I have more than that, and I don't even cook!)

Vicki Doudera said...

Yes! I cannot get rid of the old files from my magazine writing days, nor the journals from my Junior Year in France. My mom has every poem I ever wrote (sorry Lois) and now I see that I, too, am stashing my kids' writings. I need to downsize from my big farmhouse like Beth and purge!

Keith Raffel said...

Cricket, don't you read the papers? That demise has lready happened.

Cricket McRae said...

Marji, you're very lucky to have that glimpse into the past. I wonder if future generations will miss that because so much of writing lives in the digital world now. Maybe they'll mine our old blog posts to see what we were like.

Deb, I remember when you were getting rid of old research notes from your USA Today days, so I don't think you qualify as a hoarder -- just sentimental. ;)

Vicki, don't ever purge those journals from France! Your kids will want to see them. Heck, I'd like to read them.

Keith, you've convinced me. I'm running on the Titian Red ticket, since Green didn't work out so well before.

Ann Summerville said...

I'm trying to de-clutter and it's difficult. I keep finding things that although I haven't needed for 18 years, I may one day, right? Extreme couponing is the one that I don't get. who uses 50 bottles of ketchup before the expiration date?