I have a dirty secret to tell, I very rarely keep my drafts as physical copies after I have finished them. This is not because I think at any moment some literary thief will break in as I sleep and pocket them all. Later, selling them on a black market where desperate readers, critics and academics gather under flickering street lamps reading what I did to polish a turd. For sometimes writing does feel like your polishing a rather large one that has been curled out by the muse of mayhem. This beats the prick of procrastination who forces you to hoover. It however highlights that no one gets an idea from a shop fully formed, sometimes there is divine intervention – crap, that’s rubbish – sometimes you get a really good idea and it’s good because you’ve laid the foundation work for it, you just don’t remember doing it. It’s a bit like deja vu but without the need to keep telling people you’re having it.
So, Andrew, why don’t you keep all your scribbled over drafts? The simple reason is, my house does not have elastic sides and I cannot make my family move every time I spend seven or nine drafts on a short story or two dozen on a poem, a thousand on some idea that becomes little balls of scrunched up paper I poop out all over the house. Ideas are great, have one and a whole load of the buggers appear, and most of them are crap. They look great on the surface but when you dig down you realise there’s no heart to them, just more crap. I am all about the heart at the moment, maybe because mine is a duff one that is like a pressure cooker. I am worried when I meet writers whose printed out drafts, especially the early ones, have nothing scribbled on them, no arrows, no exclamation marks, no crosses, full stops or bug eyed monsters eating up the rubbish you have to wade through for the good words. You know what? I love wading through that rubbish, love the feel of every word I discard, ball up and kick out the house but after the job is done, after the words are fixed, keeping these drafts seem pointless unless there’s another story there but that is what a good notebook is for. That doesn’t stop me worrying when other writes don’t do it or when you go to writers groups you just get scintillating help scrawled over one line: ‘I love this’. I love this has never helped any writer to develop. So, I could keep every draft, I know many writers who do, but when you go and visit them you have to squeeze into their house down tiny avenues between piles of towering paper, sometimes you can hear the rats in there gnawing on the vowels, leaving none of the gd stff (vowels gone, figure it out, it’s an easy one). You have to talk to each other over volumes of failed novels, eat cake off the remains of short story ideas and drink tea out of overlong lines with no punctuation. A whole load of those drafts will have helpful comments on like, ‘I really like what you do here’, ‘This made me laugh’, and the best one ever, Smiley Face, as in :). Who the hell does that help? The writing bit is not always easy, it doesn’t always come quickly but each day you write you get to wade through rubbish to find the good stuff, to find the stuff that deserves to be written, to be told, to be drafted, to be sent out into the world but to get to that, cripes you’ll end up with houses full of discarded drafts for rats to gnaw on.