Over the past month or so, we’ve been going back through all the stuff we’ve written over the past seven-odd years. We keep everything in these clear plastic tubs, not really organized in any way. In addition to our own writing, there are quite a few printed-out short-stories we read in college, with our notes scribbled in the margins.
For a long time, we kept all of this with a certain reluctance. For starters, the tubs weigh like fifty pounds and are a pain in the ass to move when, inevitably, we get priced-out of our current apartments. Second, after the hours upon hours we spent editing and revising each piece, we felt like we never wanted to look at them again. There’s that famous quote about art never being finished, only abandoned, and that rings true to us. There are always certain things in a story you feel like you can improve, but at a certain point, for whatever reason, it’s just time to put the thing to rest.
But we did keep all of it, and the pages basically sat in those tubs and acquired a plastic smell.
Then, at the beginning of January, Walt—who’s more of a glutton for punishment than Wyatt—cracked open the bins. We sat on the floor of his apartment, popped open a few beers, and spread all of the papers out in front of us.
Without getting too abstract, it was kind of a surreal experience, like being transported in time. When you’re writing something, everything else seems to kind of fall away; but as we re-read our work, we were surprised to find ourselves recalling—often in incredible detail—the things that were happening to us while we were writing any given piece. While most of the early stuff was painfully bad, we relished extracting the one-to-two nuggets that were halfway decent, reading them out loud to one another. We followed the edits of our younger, less-experienced selves, trying to unearth the story beneath the mounds of crap we’d piled on top of them.
Seven years is a while, but it’s gone by in the blink of an eye. Both of us are incredibly grateful that we kept all of this work—not because any of it is necessarily salvageable, or worthwhile in its own right—but because it’s like an intensely personal photo-album, deeper and truer than photographs on a social media page.
It’s been a nice reminder of where we started and how far we’ve come. Granted, we don’t have any illusions that we’re where we want to be as writers, but it’s comforting to know that we have improved. That all of those stories, all of those half-finished novels, everything we’ve written before, has been a stepping stone to where we are today. It’s not a perfect trail of breadcrumbs—there have been moments where we took two steps back for each step forward—but in general, there’s a certain noticeable progression, a gradual refining of our craft.
Finally, it’s comforting to know that those stories are there. None of them were ever published in a literary magazine, none of the novels were ever picked up by an agent, nothing was ever read by anyone but ourselves. But we made them. Over seven years, thousands of sheets of computer paper, more ink and pencil led and eraser shavings than you can imagine, there they sit, a product, our output, the basis of where we are today. Every word we write now is influenced by the countless words that sit in those tubs, the words we stared at and attempted to shape and fit into some semblance of a whole.
We have most of the files still saved on our computers, but there’s something to be said for seeing it all on the page. To actually touch the pages we touched all those years ago, recalling the different places we were when we wrote, the people we knew, the things we did each day.
We’re glad we kept all of it. And we’ll continue to add to our collection; page by edited page we will fill those tubs, so that one day, maybe seven years from now, we can crack it open again and see how far we’ve come.
W & W Sawday