How Much Writing Do You Save?

On a top shelve in my closest is a set of boxes full of paper. The thickest of these contained the original first draft of my debut novel, Flowers of Dionysus. Four hundred-fifty odd printed pages. (I think the word count was around 120,000.) Those boxed pages of my proto-novel have scribblings in red ink all over the place.

If you’ve read it, (it would be nice if you did) you know that the final word count of that novel was about 80,000. I removed almost half of those first draft pages in total. Then I stuffed the draft in the box.

I printed each subsequent draft of the novel, (each one thankfully a bit smaller.) I also boxed them, and put them in the closet on top of the box with the first draft.

A lot of real estate on that shelf is dedicated to the initial versions of debut novel.

In contrast, there is zero shelf space dedicated to drafts of Murder. Theatre. Solitaire. One reason is that I only ever printed the rough draft, on which I made the usual notes. I never printed the following drafts.

Furthermore, I didn’t even save the printed first draft. I may or may not save future novel first drafts; I’ve not yet decided. But I have decided that the first draft will almost certainly be the only one that gets printed. You see, I’m not a pack rat of drafts anymore.

At first I thought it was important to somehow archive every draft of my novel. Not because I thought the library at Marietta College would one day beg for my papers relating to my runaway bestseller, but because I had learned over the years that many authors save every scrap. Every draft, every scribble, every character sketch, every abandoned story. “You never know when you might need that scrap,” said the advice articles collectively. Others also mentioned how valuable it would be to see my progress as a writer later on.

I think I’ve opened the first draft box once or twice. To the best of my memory, I’ve not cracked the boxes of the later drafts of Dionysus since I stuffed the papers into same years ago. As I said, that was the first, and last time I followed the practice.

Lest you laud me as some kind of eco-hero I must point out that I don’t save digital drafts either. I write my second draft of a novel within the master file of the first draft, according to the notes  made on the printed paper.As that remains the file I alter throughout the entire process; I don’t archive previous versions. I sense how small of a minority I’m in here, but I just don’t see the point much of the time.

My goal when writing a piece is to produce a finished product that people can read, enjoy, be moved by and so on depending on the nature of the piece. That process of polishing and fixing and softening edges is just that-a process. I have certainly learned, I hope, from the process of writing any  given novel or short story, or play, but as my goal is to create something that is better than the current draft, holding on to the current draft serves little purpose to me beyond nostalgia.

Don’t get me wrong. If I find any given excised scene from a novel worthy of its own story at some point I will set it aside in a separate file for future consideration. It’s uncommon, but it has happened. Yet in that case it’s more a matter of source material, than a draft, because I’ll only keep the pieces that have potential, and not the entire version of the novel by which they are surrounded.

And abandoned projects? (Defined as those that were never completed, as opposed to completed works for which I have not yet found a home) I don’t actually have many of those. If it’s a short story that I have started and couldn’t get going, I’m more than likely to just can the entire draft, and start over in the future if/when the idea can be approached in a fresh manner. I’ll be aware of what went wrong the previous time from memory. So it’s not just a matter of room or computer memory, but a lack of necessity, on my part.

As for longer abandoned works, those are even less common. In fact the only unfinished long work I have is the novel I iced (ironically) two years ago this very day. While I have my doubts that a novel will ever emerged fully formed from those pages, I have nonetheless held on to them, as much for the time I put into them than anything else. I will mention that the nature of what that novel tried to be provides some fodder for a potential short story collection, so for now it is archived and not trashed.

Abandoning a novel after that much work on it is somewhat nauseating, and I hope not to repeat the experience often. But if I do, I won’t know until the time comes if I keep the drafts or not.

I do still have what remains of my first ever Nanowrimo experience. I didn’t finish the plot, but got to 50K in a month. I’ve never dug back into it, and although I could one day, it’s still around as much for the distinction of being my first Nano than anything else.

In short, from what I gather from the comments or other writers I save far less than average. Drafts are for the most part a means to an end with me, and abandoned projects are usually abandoned with good reason.

How about you? What do you save of previous drafts or abandoned projects?

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