To prepare for an upcoming move, I’m going through possessions with an eye toward getting rid of things. Cut the clutter now, and make packing simpler in April.

I’m not a packrat, but I am sentimental. So the hardest decisions in this process are about items that have sentimental rather than practical value. I could argue such value is a “use” all its own; a special category, if you will. But I admit it’s not the same type of “use” as a spatula, telephone or towel.

And so, each time I move, I look over the items kept for sentimental rather than practical reasons, and shake my head. It’s a large pile, and the passage of time is not shrinking it at all. What should I keep? What am I ready to get rid of?

In some ways, these decisions feel the same as editing a first draft. I typically cut my word count 10% just by removing extra words no reader will ever miss—words such as “will,” as described in my January post. Then I go deeper, which involves more thought and time as I rework structural material to clarify the text for readers.

At some point, the cuts start to hurt. It’s possible to go too far, removing words that create tone, rhythm, nuance: voice.

I’m not a bad editor, but on occasion, I have cut too deep. The worst fight I ever had with a writer was when I did him the “favor” of deleting all the fluff words in his first draft—showing my work so he could see and learn from it.

He felt I had crushed his voice. Maybe so; it’s possible his voice consists of material I will always hear as extraneous. I don’t edit him anymore. I just correct the outright errors and pass the text to someone who can hear him.

Back to my moving process. Some sentimental items weigh me down, to be frank. I keep certain items because I’ve always kept them, or because they mark a part of my history, even a part I’m not happy to claim.

It’s like treating every word in your first draft as sacred. Does taking it out make the text lighter, cleaner? Then do it. Does getting rid of the item make the burden of worldly possessions less heavy? Heave ho.

On the other hand, some of these sentimental possessions define me to myself: the unicorn poster that hung on my wall when I was in junior high, for example. Having the poster reminds me of the girl I was.

Are writers particularly prone to this kind of sentimental hoarding, especially writers of memoir? Things spark memories, and memories can become bestsellers. This is, of course, an argument for keeping every single piece of memorabilia, every photo, every piece of paper I’ve ever scribbled on … you see the problem.

In my process of getting rid of things that have sentimental value, I’m trying to keep those items that trace the route of my history, which someday may provide fodder for memoir or at least for fun trips down memory lane. Like a writer’s voice, these things help define me. But I am ready to let go of the rest.

Just because it’s in your first draft doesn’t mean it belongs in your final. Just because you picked it up along the way doesn’t mean you have to keep it forever.


3 thoughts on “Sentimental

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  1. Lovely. I’m not a pack rat either, but this reminded me of those things I can’t part with, even though there is no logical reason to keep them. Like the calf-length denim dress with pink flowers embroidered on the bib. Not exactly my style, but my mother bought it for me on a visit to Denver. It was a really nice visit. So whenever I get ready to put it in the Goodwill bag I remember the good visit and not how horrible the dress is and just put it back in the closet. Some things you just need to keep because you need to know they are there. Loved the blog.

  2. oh, how i can relate to this post–on both levels. editing someone else is very hard; i’ve been an editor now for 15 years or more and i’m sure i’ve crushed many a writer in my time, unwittingly and unintentionally.

    sometimes those excess words are excess, and sometimes they add rhythm and pacing and repetition to a piece. same with all of those things in your sentimental pile.

    i don’t feel bad about giving away my father’s coat (as i mentioned in my blog) but there are things i have given away, or thrown away, that i regret years and years and years later. choose wisely!

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