Ever since I was young, I’ve been a bit of a pack-rat. It’s not bad enough to get me nominated for an episode of Hoarders, but I am unbelievably nostalgic. I can’t help myself — memories are important to me, and tangible reminders of people I’ve known, places I’ve been, and experiences that I’ve had are even better.
My parents, however, have forced me to clean out my childhood bedroom, but where they see “junk” and “clutter,” I see the priceless artifacts of my life (cleaning out the bedroom sometimes resembles an archaeological dig, but that’s another story altogether).
A few months ago I was persuaded (read: forced) to wade through the mayhem and pack things up for storage in the garage. I found the typical things — elementary school report cards, yearbooks, loose photographs, old presents and souvenirs, letters and postcards from old friends. What I didn’t expect to stumble upon was my cache of old writing notebooks, all organized in chronological order from oldest (5th grade!) to the most recent (junior year of college). Given that I’ve written almost exclusively on my laptop for the past four or five years, the sight of spiral-bound notebooks filled with my scrawls and scribbles was a little shocking. Even more exciting, though, was the treasure trove of ideas I had discovered.
Don’t get me wrong — some of those ideas were utter tripe, and I’d be very, very happy if they were never seen or heard of again (the silly 6th grade urge to write a story about global warming and an electric car-driving geophysicist who saves the planet, however, is a gem). Other ideas were a great deal better, and sort of exciting — musings on systems of magic, snippets of pretend prophecies, lists of my favorite names and meanings. Reading through my old work is like undertaking a historical study of my imagination, an archive of old characters, plots, stray scenes and sentences. I can pinpoint the books I must have been reading at the time, the movies I was watching, and the other elements of inspiration from which I drew.
Such an archive is invaluable to me, partly because I am fascinated with the progression and development of my ideas over the years, and also because I love seeing what’s remained the same. “Forever Always,” a hilarious bad story about two high school students who realize they are reincarnated sorcerers from another era, carries within it my fascination with love that endures across time, with magical rivalries, and with speculative fiction. (I am pretty certain that I was drawing from Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon at the time, along with the Roswell High books by Melinda Metz. The combination never fails to amuse me.)
The archive also becomes incredibly useful in what I am able to plunder and steal. The idea of introducing a character with troubled dreams in “Path to the Peacock Throne” came straight from my short myth, “The Scepter and Sword.” The concept for the “Seven Sisters,” the legendary founders of Vao Artan, stemmed from an unfinished drabble called “The Mark,” about six women who were god-chosen to save their world from some horrible evil.
Some ideas might be trash, but sometimes it’s good trash. So don’t go Hoarders-crazy, but keep an eye on your old, discarded darlings. Tuck them away and keep them somewhere safe (and don’t let your parents talk you into throwing them out, no matter what). You never know which one you just might need.