Tuesday, January 11, 2005


"The words of the prophets
are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls
and whispered in the sounds of silence..." Paul Simon

It's that time of year again, the beginning of a new year, a time to start fresh. Out with the old. In with the new. As usual, I'm surrounded by stacks of papers, newspapers, magazines, scraps of writing from works-in-progress, research notes, clippings and shelves full to over-capacity with books. What to discard, if anything?

OK. most of the newspapers can go. I'm an obsessive clipper of articles -- a throwback from my years of working the editoral news library. I save things. Not only stories that may enhance my research files, but things of interest, possibilities for further story ideas. (You can generate a lot of writing prompts by reading the daily news.)

Every time I move (twice in the past couple of years) I've culled my personal library, donated books to yard sales or friends. Sometimes I've regretted my decisions. Where are my Rosemary Sutcliffe and Pauline Gedge books? Why did I give agway my beautiful copy of the Tao te Ching and all my Tai Chi books?

Now I must assess the stacks of papers and file boxes that line the walls of my office/bedroom. What to toss out?

To me, words are precious things, especially the words I've written myself for story ideas, passages of my novel, poetry, etc. I have made it a rule never to toss out any hard-copy unless I'm certain it is useless drivel or something I can't restore to a semblence of publishability. (Same goes for deleting off my computer files). Thus I am overwhelmed by my paper collection. I even have a box of old MSS dating back to when I was twelve, including the very first Alexander-themed novel I wrote during my last year of high school in 1951. I nearly failed my grades that year but I kept my study hall companions entertained with chapter segments. And that early novel is responsiblefor all my other serious writing since then. It even got as far as a publisher who was duly impressed by this teen-age writer, but suggested I set it aside and rewrite it once I was older, more mature in age and writing skills. And I've given serious thought to doing this, turning it into a juvenile historical. But will ther ever be time? Still...I have kept the original (and rewrites) of this major achievement and its there if I ever want to rework it.)

Keeping the old manuscripts (even the ones hand-written in lined scribblers) proved useful last year when I was accepted by the BC. Federation of Writers to work on a project called "Off the Page" in which I was invited to attend a school (any grade) to present a lecture about writing. I went to a grade six class in my neighbourhood, a school I was familiar with as I used to be director of a daycare on the same grounds. So I knew the dynamics of the families and children there who are mostly First Nations and immigrant families, many of them needy.

I chose one of my ealiest stories, and found an excerpt from it which had been published in a Girl Guide magazine, when I was twelve. It is the story about a Dutch war orphan who was adopted by a Canadian family. After WWII ended, I was struck by the news reel stories and those passed on by my father who had been a chaplain in an army field hosptial in Holland, about the refugee camps that were full of children orphaned by the war. This was a story about a little girl, Janni, and her brother Peter, and how they found a new home in another country.

The children in the classroom, in spite of some unruliness, were impressed and, I hope, inspired. For me it was an opportunity to share with them how I had dreamed of being a writer when I was their age, and how I had followed that dream.

So there is some value in saving those pieces of paper, ideas you've jotted down and kept. You never know when you can use them again.

Words have longer life than deeds. (Pindar)

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