Re-discovering the writers’ magic treasure box

I suppose it’s true of every writer. Somewhere, out in the back shed, lurks a box of dusty, damp manuscript pages.

Yes, like a geeky Tolkien fan I had to pose in the entrance, such as it was - you could circle it, just like the door Aslan made to get rid of the Telmarines in .Prince Caspian'.

My writing treasure box has a lot of stuff inspired by various SF and fantasy authors (and that’s me, 40 years later…)

Maybe they’re typed sheets. Maybe it’s hand-written notes. Maybe something scribbled in an exercise book.

The painful teenage expressions of aspiring authorship. Stories that never made it. Letters to your future self.

Stuff that you’d be embarrassed to admit to writing – but which tells a deeper tale of hopes and dreams. Personal treasure.

Do you have that magic box of manuscript pages, out there in back-shed land? I know I do.

Have you had the courage to open it? And if you have – what did you find? Were you inspired? I’d love to hear from you.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2014

Coming up: More writing tips, more geekery. Watch this space.

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15 comments on “Re-discovering the writers’ magic treasure box

  1. I find it interesting that when we revisit these “treasure boxes,” we learn something about ourselves. For sure we will find the cringe-worthy stuff that we can’t wait to rip to shreds but other times, there’s that glimmer of a treasure, or at least the potential for it, that is definitely worth pursuing. Those days are always great.

  2. About a year ago I cleaned up all my old 3.5″ floppy discs and found a bunch of interesting bits. A few may make it back into the work queue. :-)

    • I used to have some of those – managed to get everything off them before my last 3.5″ drive PC decided to make like landfill. I guess the problem these days is finding a drive to read ‘em, and software to interpret the contents. All in good company, though, I believe NASA had the same problem with the Pioneer 10 data… :-)

  3. I destroy that stuff, because the embarrassment I feel is so loaded – I feel embarrassment in the moment, on top of my embarrassment for my former self. It’s like compound embarrassment that just grows on itself until I destroy the evidence.

    • Is that really a good idea? You might find you’re not embarrassed about some of it, one day. Though come to think of it, we all destroy writing these days – back in the old days of typewriters and pen-and-ink, every new draft demanded new paper, and the old survived. These days we edit the Word file and it over-writes the old text. It would be virtually impossible, I think, for anybody to figure out somebody’s writing process, the way we today can go back to (say) Tolkien’s papers and re-read earlier drafts of his novels.

      • Oh no, I’m sure it’s a terrible idea, but I can’t help myself sometimes. There are some things I wish I still had thatch can’t retrieve, but then, there are some things that I’m happy to have left behind. Mostly, pieces where I was clearly trying waaaaay too hard to seem smart, and in destroying those drafts, I feel like I’ve left behind an inauthentic attitude.

  4. ernestwhile says:

    For me, it’s blank books now filled. And bar coasters and napkins. And that’s before I even get to deep digging.

    • Sounds intriguing! Some of the best ideas of any kind started life as scribbles or sketches on napkins – and I’m not saying that in an apocryphal way. New Zealand’s main Parliamentary building, the ‘Beehive’, originated in precisely that manner.

  5. I did have a box like that, and after I got divorced I left it with people I thought I could trust. Alas, we had a falling-out, and now it’s in a Florida landfill. Most of it, just as well…but there were some things I wish I still had, like the Star Trek – Next Generation fan novel I had about forty or fifty handwritten pages on.

    • That’s not a good ending for the material! My own ‘treasure boxes’ are much the same – 99% junk (it’s the stuff I wrote as ‘exercises’ to learn how to write, looking back on it) but there will be the odd gems there. For me the problem is that shed storage in NZ’s damp-ish climate is dire for anything made of paper.

  6. KM Huber says:

    Just recently, I went through some old manuscripts, story ideas, and copies of a library column I once wrote for a small-town newspaper. I do this from time to time, although usually my purpose has nothing to do with re-reading old writing. I am usually in search of something else. Chagrined? Absolutely! It is always interesting and sometimes revealing what memories the writing will spark, however. Although it has been some time since any of that writing seemed like something to re-write, there are a couple character sketches that might work for an essay or two. To be honest, your post just gave me that idea. As always, an enjoyable post, Matthew.
    Karen

    • Glad to have been able to spark an idea! I must admit, most of my older stuff is unreadable these days – a lot of the ‘treasure boxes’ I have are filled with the words I was writing as part of the exercise of learning how to write. There are some gems in there, but not too many, I fear. For me, much of the appeal of reading through the old stuff is often the re-discovery of myself in younger days. Has experience made me a different person? Or simply a more complex version of what I was? One surprise I often have is the fearlessness with which I tackled stuff, back then; but of course, at the beginning of the writing ‘learning curve’ I had no idea about what I didn’t know, as it were…

  7. Oh yeah. I cringe at the writing, but admire the effort. More important, it represents a journey as much as any physical one I’ve ever taken and it’s good to take a moment once in a great while to look back and see the trail you blazed. It helps maintain perspective.

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