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The author looking at old publications / notes with young assistant. Photo: Laura Bernhein

What do writers do with all their leftover notes and contributors’ copies?

1. Damn. I just built more shelves at my parents’ garage. (There are no basements in Florida.) I don’t want to leave anything here but I’m not sure what to do with my boxes of old notebooks, newspapers, journals, magazines. My first publications. What do other writers do with this stuff?

2. I collected my first crate
of this stuff in college. Early journals of creative writing, assignments from Coleman Barks’ class. Later I looked at it and thought ‘I hope nobody ever finds this.’ One day my parents asked if I could take a bunch of stuff to the landfill and I threw those early notebooks in there too. Thinking back now I should’ve burned them.

3. The family and I are heading to Patagonia in a couple months. We have a little piece of land in El Bolsón. We’re totally limited as to what we can bring down there, and for me the gear has to get packed first: tools, snowboard, wetsuits, boots, snowshoes, goggles. Maybe a few books.

4. It’s weird flipping back through some of these old notes and publications though. Some of them have aged better than I would’ve guessed. Others I can’t read. Things like this seem more about remembering where you were and what you were doing around the time you were writing them. How hard you thought it was then. And how much harder it seems now.

5. I don’t think I’d like to burn this batch of writing. Maybe something like shred it, then use as insulation for the cabin.

6. When I was first trying to get published it was like learning how to paddle. I wanted to publish so bad, and then after I finally got my first publication (It was in the Mountain Gazette), I thought, damn–you build it all up in your mind just like a rapid.

Oceana, Tallulah Gorge. Photo: Alex Harvey.

And then finally you just step up and fire that shit and once it’s over, all you want to do is run another one.

7. There was this one rapid, Oceana, on the Tallulah River. The thing dropped like 80 feet. I scouted it and couldn’t see exactly where to go, but I could definitely see where I didn’t want to go. I felt like an ant down there in the bottom of the gorge. People were watching from observation platforms hundreds of feet up the canyon walls.

8. A bro up at the Chattooga had told me “it’s good to go, just lean back when you hit the bottom.” The thing was ugly and beautiful and massive and it was time to run. A few paddle strokes then all white-out, then impact, then I rolled up.

9. You can take a picture or write a story and put it in a box, put the box up on a shelf, then take it back down (or someone else takes it back down) later. It seems anti-flow though. In the end you can’t take anything but the ride itself.

Community Connection

What do you do with all your old notes and contributors copies? Let us know in the comments.



About The Author

David Miller

David Miller is Senior Editor of Matador (winner of 2010 and 2011 Lowell Thomas awards for travel journalism) and Director of Curricula at MatadorU. Follow him @dahveed_miller.

  • LeRoy

    There’s a big box of archives in my basement I can’t get rid of. With it I could create a huge (OK not that huge) contemporary fiction piece where stories intertwine, cross up, and totally lose the reader.

    But it would probably be very bad :)

  • JoAnna

    I haul my old journals around in a trunk, and that trunk has gotten increasingly heavy as I’ve gotten older.

    As for those contributor’s copies, I cut out my article, place it in a bound portfolio and call it good. I don’t actually keep the whole magazine.

  • Nola Lee Kelsey

    I put them all in several boxes around my office and tell myself that someday I will organize them into a big scrapbook for future generations to enjoy. Of course, neither the scrapbook or future generations giving a sh*t is based in reality, but at least I don’t have to make any decision about what to do with all that precious paper. It gives it time to biodegrade.

  • Julie

    I’ve got a desk drawer full of notebooks. They move from one apartment, from one country, to another.

  • Eva

    I’m a bit of an extreme pat rack – I’ve got notebooks and binders going back to childhood, packed in a couple of boxes in my mom’s attic. I also have every (paper) rejection letter I’ve ever gotten in a drawer. Every now and then I do flip through an old notebook and find a useful note or idea or fragment… so I guess that keeps me from feeling too absurd.

  • Lola

    My trusty journals stay in IKEA metal/ silver tin boxes.

    For contributor copies and published articles – I scan the cover page of the magazine and then the article itself, so I’ve got digital copies of those.

  • Hal Amen

    Looking over old writing is like flipping through old yearbooks. A little revolting, but interesting.

    I’m not even sure where mine is…scattered among the different “drop zones” I’ve created from parents’/in-laws’ houses, storage units…would be nice to burn them with the rest of that crap. But I won’t.

    • Kathy

      I know there are some in our garage…waiting for the run on your “early work” to peak 8-)

      • Hal Amen

        Now there’s a proud mother. Or is that sarcasm?

        • Kathy

          You mean a proud mother can’t be sarcastic???

  • Candice

    Those writings are precious, don’t throw them out! I have journals from when I was six years old. It’s fun to look back and realize the biggest event of my day used to be catching my classmate picking her nose. I even wrote a poem about it.

  • joshua johnson

    I love everyone chiming in one this!
    I have folders and dog eared notebooks shoved under my desk; poems from my Beat fascination phase, college short stories, beginning chapters of nothing in particular…I don’t really know why I keep them, there is certainly not any one gem in there, but it’s me, my handwriting, my written history (like david I find so much painful to read…like WHO IS THIS DOUCHE? oh, wait, it’s me:) )

  • Julie

    Agreed! Don’t throw them out!

  • April

    so agreed, “you can’t take anything but the ride itself”


    Looking at your old writings can help you see how much progress you made in your writing. You may feel inclined to take those writings and rewrite them. When you’re stuck for blog postings, you could take your revised articles and post them. Just an idea…

  • LeRoy

    I like that last idea, when you’re stuck for blog postings… Maybe because that’s my case :)

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