You’d think I was pregnant, the way I’ve been rummaging through drawers, sifting through papers, and filling garbage bags full of “unnecessary plastic objects” (to quote one of my favorite singers, Nanci Griffith).
The need to purge came on strong just before the holidays. We moved furniture to open up a room downstairs and uncovered a host of lost toys (not missed once), and I found myself dreaming of a dumpster. I even considered tossing some of the writing magazines and literary journals I’ve accumulated in the last year.
But, I knew the garbage bin wouldn’t see draft, nor final, of any of my earlier writings: old essays, true stories, and short shorts.
When I got serious about writing and heard that old adage – a writer should never throw out anything, even if she think it stinks – I wondered, how can you possibly keep everything?.
Still, I saved each story and every quick write in more than one place. I printed a few cherished essays and placed them in a big binder that’s secured between my nightstand and my bed.
The first few pieces I wrote were all memoir, too risky to publish, that pried their way out of my mind’s dark corners. When I shared them with other writers and got great feedback on one or two, I thought, what if I publish them? But the purpose of those pieces was not to show up in glossy print on the white pages of a literary magazine. My earlier writings de-cluttered my brain and cleared the way for new narratives to take shape.
And, as writers who came before me predicted, bits and pieces of those earlier essays have bled into other stories. An old familiar figure became the face of a new character. The real-life moment I walked into a nursing home wove its way into a fictional short story where my emotions as memory gave way to imagined conversations.
Isn’t that how fiction works? We write what we know. Our experiences and memories interact with our imagination. We give new life to an old character, reshape the insides of an old house.
We write a new ending.