Paper Trails

Robert McCrumb of The Guardian posted an article about the power of paper in a digital era. The article focuses on the perseverance of the written word and looks at writers who save paper drafts of their manuscripts:

Ink and paper lives on in countless surprising ways. I see that the University of East Anglia has just announced the acquisition of a manuscript archive: more than 50 boxes of typed manuscripts, short stories, pencil drafts, notes and re-workings by the Yorkshire-based novelist Robert Edric. A self-proclaimed “hoarder” of his own work, the archive shows in fantastic detail the creative writing process.

Edric has more than 20 novels under his belt and his archive of manuscript drafts, which were handwritten or typed, goes back 30 some years. In the article, he reflects on saving drafts:

 “I mostly write in pencil on paper and I’ve kept everything. I never throw anything away and I don’t write on a computer so there is no ‘delete’ option. You never normally know how a writer works. It takes an enormous amount of energy, but if you work on a computer there’s no way of showing someone the process because you end up deleting things, re-writing parts.

 “You don’t ever see the scribbles and revisions from 20 years ago – how you reworked and reworked the text. I only really use a computer to finish the process. The vast part of the archive has never seen the light of day. Four or five of my early novels were never published – but they were the foundations of my career and I was learning to work hard.”

Personally, I write on paper when I’m not near my computer or I print off old drafts and save those. I’ve also saved old, old writing in notebooks and things I’ve typed in the past. As a result, there is a large amount of paper in piles and in boxes around the house, which makes my husband crazy.

I also save drafts on my computer, but I’m sure there are plenty of drafts I haven’t saved because I’ve edited and re-edited without renaming the files. I like to think I’m saving some trees, and besides only I’m going to see those old shitty drafts anyway.

But Edric brings up some important questions:  How important is it for a writer to save every draft of every piece he has ever written?  Will he ever look at those drafts again to see his process or will the drafts just gather dust?  Will the writer delete something he should have saved?

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One Comment to “Paper Trails”

  1. I’m not sure how important it really is to record all of the process involved in writing something. I mean keeping versions (whether electronic or hard copy) between edits is one thing, but does anyone really need to know about every crossing out and change of mind? One for the academics perhaps.
    Interesting aspect of the writing process to consider!

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