I used to have a stash of writings that I kept in my closet. I referred to it as “The Warehouse,” because some clever guy in my undergrad creative writing class wrote a meta fiction piece about his warehouse. Basically, he was going through old ideas and writings to pull ideas, like you’d go into a warehouse to find parts.
My warehouse was overflowing with notebooks and binders. I had lugged some of those pieces from my parents house to my first place. Then, to Chris’s house when I moved in with him. And back in May, I started to load them in a box again to move them with me to the swingin’ bachelorette pad.
The stash had grown significantly. There were journals full of morning pages, notebooks of to do lists and outlines, planners that showed everything I had done that day, and scraps and bits that didn’t really have a category.
So I looked at the box, overflowing from only half the contents of my writerly stash.
I hadn’t really pulled any ideas from it, not since undergrad, which ended 10 years ago.
Looking at the notebooks, I couldn’t easily say what each one contained. There was no system for storing these. Basically, I finished a notebook and threw it on the shelf. There were countless dog-eared black Moleskines, some about half my age.
And I hadn’t even looked at them since I tossed them on the shelf.
But I had lugged them to new locations.
If I remembered correctly, there was some insanely cringe-inducing things in there. Like the story where I pinched a huge plot point from Dorothy Gilman’s Maze in the Heart of the Castle, but somehow made it about pro wrestling. Or any of my poetry, that was basically like the lovechild of e.e. cummings and The Bouncing Souls. Or just any emotions that were journaled between the ages of 12 and 25. Those were some dark-ass days, y’all.
I felt like I had to pack these up, like I had to keep lugging them, like I had this cross to bear just because I was a writer.
But then I had an even better thought.
What if I just threw them away?But then I had an even better thought. What if I just threw them away? Click To Tweet
And so I did. I got a big ol’ trash bag and loaded it up with everything that was the writer I used to be. I didn’t think twice. I just did it and tossed it in the big green city-issued dumpster.
It feels oddly freeing, especially since you’d think getting rid of your hoarded ideas would make you feel very sad — like losing the last 45 minutes of work in your Word Document when you think it’s autosaving but it’s not.
But instead, I feel like I’m finally free to be the writer I want to be. Which is weird, because a shelf of notebooks in your closet shouldn’t really dictate who you are, but it kind of does. It’s like being shackled to stories you don’t want to tell anymore.
And now I’m not tied down.
Obviously, this is not for everyone. But maybe let me leave you with this thought that really jolted me into making this decision.
“If I were to die, who would have to clean up this pile of notebooks, and would they read them?”
I knew that it would be my parents, and the answer would most assuredly be yes. (Also, I think they’d pack them up and keep them forever, even though those notebooks were garbage.)
I knew I didn’t want that. So, I threw them away.
And I’m only posting this here because I want to leave my writerly friends with this question. Are you holding onto ideas or the writer you used to be at the expense of new ideas or the writer you going to become?If I were to die, who would have to clean up this pile of notebooks, and would they read them? Click To Tweet
If so, may I recommend taking a trash bag to your warehouse?
That was really brave of you. But I feel like it’s a brand new slate and you’re right…you don’t have to let those old notebooks and journals define you. Be the writer you want to be right now. And tomorrow, if that writer is a little bit different…be her too.
Thanks, Stephanie! And I’m definitely looking forward to being whatever writer it is I’m supposed to be for the day in question!
Love it. Terrifying and freeing.
Yeah. At first I felt really scared, but now, definitely free.
I think I’d rather burn some of mine than throw them out, lol! But I believe a purge will be necessary soon. I’m getting tired of clutter, and unfortunately a lot of it is old notebooks… from my teens.
Ooooh, girl. Those teen years notebooks definitely should be burned. Ha!
ooooh eeek what a scary thought is my first response but on second thought wow I am so impressed and I need the idea to sink in – could I? would I? will I? sometimes I like going back to that teenaged me (which in my case is decades ago so it’s fun to remember though sometimes it’s maddeningly cringe-worthy and I certainly wouldn’t want my kids to read it!) great to think about thanks for the idea and I’ll keep you posted..
It’s so freeing when you do it, but definitely don’t do it if you’re not ready! And part of me will miss knowing what 15-year-old me thought, but the majority of me is glad that no one will never know now.
This makes me feel so much better about throwing all my old journals away. I tossed them years ago, but I always wondered if that was a good thing not I know it was. 🙂
Yes! That’s awesome that you did it.
I came across your post after searching Google if writers should throw away old notebooks. I just did it to my old ones! It felt so theraputic and something I needed to do.
That’s awesome, Nicole! Glad I could help. Also, since I’ve gotten rid of mine, I feel a lot better, and like I can finally create new and awesome work.
I’m a songwriter and I have kept almost everything I ever jotted down. 4 decades of it. I found this post because I’m wondering what to do with these boxes of notebooks. I’m pondering a ceremonial bonfire.
I have a friend who is about to move to the Pacific Northwest, and we’re going to do a big bonfire for her old journals!
I found this post after googling about “old notebooks”. I am about to throw away older journals, which I did go through them once and I realise I don’t intend to do it again. I mean, I have all my memories and feelings inside of me, integrated. I got new ideas, different needs… I also carry them from house to house since years. Interestingly enough, I have stopped keeping journals since some years now, in order to free my writing from my inner critic and censor. I write my every day troubles in papers, which I throw away the same day, or in documents which I delete soon.
I notice though, that I do want to keep my sketching journals and my notes on dreams, just as I keep my prose pieces. These are like pieces of art and I see them standing a lot more as art pieces, comparing them to my scribbles in journals.
Nice to find likeminded people though 🙂
I love the idea of of throwing away the papers the same day. Then you don’t have to carry around a big notebook.
I like my old notebooks. Is anyone going to read them. Probably not. But if I do,then they’re worth keeping. If this keeps people captive to their past, then (a) that’s their problem and (b) shame on them. If they want to throw them out, fine, but the presence of them shouldn’t tie them to the past. Aren’t we growups already?
OH MY GOODNESS. I googled “what do writers do with old notebooks?” and this popped up. I can relate to so much of this post. My sign that this post was meant for me was the Bouncing Souls reference (Oi!).
Lately I’ve become obsessed with tiny houses and minimalism, and minimalists don’t carry around boxes of old journals – which I’m prone to do. I’ve also been wondering, if I were to die, how would I feel about someone reading my old journals – NOPE. Can’t happen. I’d feel terrible if some of my family members knew my true feelings about past events. So I’m going to burn them. Thank you for inspiring me!
Aaaaahhhhhh! I’m so glad this post found you. I love the idea of burning them. A friend and I did that before she moved. We used an old keg and tossed the notebooks in there, and then lit them up. It felt really good and she was happy to no longer be burdened with them. Hope your notebook burning goes well!