Fair is Foul and Foul is Material

At Sara Zarr’s blog, she talks a little about “foul matter“–printed material like manuscripts that were part of the book-making process but aren’t relevant after the book is printed. She says:

“Sometimes writers save this stuff for “posterity”. I have enjoyed going to special collections and looking at drafts and manuscripts of other authors…But generally, my drafts make me feel so completely exposed, I can’t imagine anyone but my editor and a few trusted friends reading them without feeling like shortly there will be a knock on the door and I’ll be arrested for impersonating a writer. And I’m not sure about the idea of predicting that work will be lasting enough to warrant a record.”

I feel pretty much the same. Okay, so most of my foul material consists of copies printed for workshops or previous drafts, but every so often I go through huge paper purges and recycle lots of previous drafts. Most of the time, I’ve already incorporated the necessary comments into my work; and if I haven’t, maybe that was because I went a different direction in my revision. It can be tempting to keep old material, but do you really need it? When I do a paper purge, I try to think that it means I’m moving forward in my work. And as much as I love seeing old material from famous writers, I don’t necessary need all my early drafts on file just in case I make it big.

Do you tend to save your previous drafts and other foul material?

(image: bionicteaching)

4 thoughts on “Fair is Foul and Foul is Material

  1. I save everything (electronically). I’ve been known to edit something out, then decide I want it back in, and I’ve had to go searching through my files for what what words I can remember.

    And sometimes I spinoff random bits of back story into short stories, which I then present on my website as “apocrypha:” stories outside the scope of my trilogy, which are nonetheless interesting to fans. (Theoretically; I don’t actually have fans yet, but I subscribe to the belief that if I make it, they will read it.)

    • Good point about electronic copies–I save most of those, too. So much easier to search through that than paper material!

      And I love when writes have apocrypha. (Shannon Hale has some of that on her site, too.) It’s fun to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse.

  2. I save everything of course… you can’t delete your own baby ideas.
    But I always change things when ever I read back what I read. But its only because I become a different person… when I write, I only think of my imagination, without realizing fully how it will appear… when I become a reader… I see what I don’t like in most books, I change it and smooth the rough edges of my work.

  3. Also, your edited material can end up in other stories. Just because this situation, character, or setting doesn’t work for this book doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t work for some future work.

    In fact, that’s not a bad idea when you have writer’s block: read through your “trash” and see if any of it inspires you to write a different story.

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