It’s raining this weekend in west central Florida, and because we don’t get snow days down here, I use these wet, dark days as my “clean something out” days. Today, I will clean my office.
I begin with the papers stacked a foot tall on top of my filing cabinet. Okay—there’s two stacks. All of you writers know what I find lurking there—old rejection letters. Most of them are from literary journals, rejecting my short stories. The story most rejected is the one that inspired me to write BENT ROAD. Not too much sting associated with those rejections. Another highly rejected short story, PAYDAYS, led to the novel I am finishing up now. Probably best that this short story never sold. Lastly, I file away a few rejections on the story GOOD ENOUGH. That one ultimately sold to the Chattahoochee Review. You’ll find it in their current edition.
So, what else lurks in a writer’s office? The writers in crowd know—research on literary agents. We all have it, stacks of it, mounds of it. Most of us do this research long before we’ve finished a novel worth selling. About midway through the stacks that no longer teeter, I find the binder where I stored my notes on various agents. Names, agencies, websites are scribbled on sheets of paper that I three hole punched and stuck in a blue binder. Some names are scratched out, other highlighted. I find the spreadsheet that I created to track the agents I queried when I finished BENT ROAD. I contacted nine agents before signing with Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency. I toss out the binder, the notes and the research. I keep the spreadsheet.
I find two year old report cards, pictures from Daughter’s pre-school days (she is a seventh grader now) and Husband’s original Social Security card. Not sure where that came from. Lastly, I find a few treasures. Again, the writers in the crowd can see this one coming. I dig up three small spiral notebooks where I’ve jotted down story ideas, listed character traits, drawn maps of imaginary towns. I find outlines in various states of completion, an article about earthworm hunting that I clipped from the newspaper, random scenes that I wrote out longhand and have no memory of writing. It’s like stealing someone else’s ideas, except they’re my own, and so they are fair game.
I finish the day by tearing up one of the 127 versions of BENT ROAD that I have read and edited over the past few years. (Just kidding about the 127.) I’ve already kept a few early drafts of this novel, so don’t need another. Then I gather up the two garbage bags that I filled with paperwork and stand back. This is when I realize that the state of my office mirrors the state of my writing. My early drafts are a bit haphazard. Ideas are cluttered, things stack up, plotlines teeter near disaster. As does my office. But then, after a first draft, a second draft, a tenth or twelfth draft, the storylines have been tidied up, the stacks have dwindled, most everything is where it should be. This is where I am as I near the end of the novel I am working on now. So I’ll enjoy this clean workspace until I start writing a third book, at which time I’m certain my office will slowly but surely deteriorate again into utter chaos.