An overwhelming moment, standing beneath the loft bed, surrounded on all sides by old writing drafts—boxes here, scattered pages there, a tower on the bookshelf, a cabinet full.

It feels symbolic somehow. That I can’t move ahead with my life when I have this disappointment all around me. I spend my days living under its weight, my nights sleeping on top of it. It’s choking me.

It is time to recycle the old drafts. I need a massive shredder and a dump truck. But, without, I will have to start small—one draft at a time.

The saddest part is finding the binders. There was a time, early on, when I insisted on printing out hard copies of my drafts and making edits on the page. I’d hole-punch the pages and keep them in binders that I’d carry around with me everywhere. I am thinking of the process now—I don’t do it anymore to avoid wasting paper—but how pleasurable was that, the line-edits, the scribbles in the margins that became too big for the margins and turned to the backs of the pages, spreading out to other pages, numbered to keep track of them… I can barely decipher the handwriting now. The weight of the binder in my bag. The pleasure in lugging around that weight. The binders contain such hope. There was one with color coding. Sectioned off by idea. Chapters with titles. Characters with lives. Oh, how I wanted this book to happen.

This is the first novel I ever wrote. Starting others doesn’t count; this is the first one I finished, i.e., wrote to the end. Here is a box with comments from my graduate thesis workshop, back when I had at most 50, 75, 100 pages. Should I open the box to see what they said?


But I won’t throw the box away. One day I will open it, see what the other writers in my workshop said about the novel when it was just starting out, its very beginnings. From what I remember, I felt alive in those workshops, encouraged—as if it were all possible. That semester may have been the happiest time of my life. One writer whose short stories made me choke up they were so powerful was a strong advocate of mine, or so I remember. He published his book not two years later. I’d rather remember it this way, the good things, the point at which that novel was my world and my world was promising, I don’t want to ruin my memory.

Years later, in my thesis conference, just before finally graduating, a professor I had never spoken to before said he was afraid my novel would fail. It was bloated, maybe he said that. It wasn’t centered, I think he said that. I don’t remember what he said I should do to fix it, I don’t remember. He said other things, too, and another professor was there who said nicer things, but what I remember is that word: fail.

Now, I empty the binders and drop the pages into the trash. There, look: I got frightened away and never made a real go of it. I gave up. You could say I failed.

Then I tried again. Here, this a draft of my latest novel—it has the blue ink scrawls all over it. The sticky notes. Oh, the sticky notes. The intensity of the handwriting sends me reeling: I remember when I wrote that. At the writers colony, at the height of inspiration during a revision. How happy I was, how… hopeful.

The hopefulness is staggering.

I can’t even look at it.

I am imagining a life without these pages. Thousands upon thousands of pages, just shredded and swept away. What might I write if no longer held back by these old drafts? What might my mind be like when uncluttered? And when I sleep, the space under the loft cleaned out beneath me, what might I dream?

The possibilities are endless. Maybe I was just meant to write it all. Write it and throw it away. Maybe that was the point.

Or maybe this is a test and I am now meant to rise to the challenge, do something with these unwanted pages, prove the guy who said the novel would fail (and thus I would fail) wrong.

Maybe so.

Maybe not.

Maybe I am just supposed to clean up the apartment.

3 responses to “Cleansing”

  1. This was painful to read–for I can never bear to throw anything away. Isn’t this what archives are for? (although my archive is under the table in my office, and under the bed in the spare room)

  2. This was a beautiful & sad post, Nova. I like to think that everything we lose or think we fail at is just a process. Like love, if you give your all to something, it doesn’t just disappear when you throw it away; part of it continues to live somewhere inside of you. Keep on writing heartfelt wonderful stuff. It is just a matter of time before the world agrees.

  3. As someone who could use a little of what you are doing now, I have to say I loved this post. I keep picturing all of your notes to yourself and wondering how you can dispose of these things. You are stronger than me, obviously.

    It felt at times as though you were eulogizing your older work. Addressing it with love and putting it into its context before saying goodbye and moving on. Perhaps I’m projecting.

    Anyway, I’ve been reading you through Bloglines for a while now, and I like your writing. I’ve linked you to prove it.

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