Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cleaning Out The Junk Drawer

Gail Kittleson

            Housecleaning was not a huge priority as I grew up, and the junk drawer sat at the bottom of the list. Actually, there was no list. Anyway, if someone dumped that drawer out, we knew things were desperate.  

            About two weeks ago, my husband greeted me with, “It’s three degrees this morning—a degree warmer than yesterday.” Blizzard conditions prevailed over each weekend, and officials cancelled school on three consecutive Mondays.

            On March 21, we teased friends and neighbors with a tongue-in-cheek “Happy Spring!” On the twenty-second, I noticed a sign on Main Street:

MARCH 23, 1-3

            You’ve got to be kidding me.

            That day, we reached a high of twenty-two degrees, and a violent wind pierced even Thinsulate outerwear and fleece mittens. People walked bent-backed, if they walked at all.  A highway scraped clean in the morning wore an ice coating by afternoon, from blowing snow that melted under the traffic flow and refroze.

            I know, you’re sick of winter, too, so why am I reminding you of it? Trust me—there’s a writing point here somewhere. And it’s about that junk drawer.

One thing winter is good for . . . hunkering down with your work in progress. You can’t leave the house anyway. This past month I did just that—hunkered down. And it was one of those periods I could sense my skills sharpening.

On one of my first go-back-through edits, all of a sudden, a light shone . . . it was easy to spot backstory and wipe it from the face of the earth. Thousands of words went by the wayside—that is, into the backstory file I keep for this particular story, just in case I need them, you know.

That file overflows with all that stuff you can’t use right now, but don’t want to toss in the wastebasket. So you throw it into the drawer, where moth and rust corrupt. And then, some winter when the cold, cabin fever and degenerate thoughts swirling in your head become unbearable, you decide to clean that baby out.

Somehow, on that day, it’s okay to get rid of the stuff, now infested with dust, dead insects, and an unidentified sticky substance. Afterward, you clean the grime from the bottom of the drawer, and replace (in an organized fashion) a few remnants that might actually be useful some day.

Your satisfied sigh echoes through the house. You did it!

That’s how I felt after that strong edit, razing retrograde, redundant ruminations from my first three chapters. What possessed me to think I’d needed them in the first place? As I reread those all-important chapters, they seemed lighter . . . fresh . . .free . . . and much more effective.

Ahhh, the joys of winter.

About Gail A late-blooming writer, Gail Kittleson has instructed ESL and writing, facilitated grief workshops and women's retreats, and enjoyed being a wife, mom, and Grandma. She and her husband live in northern Iowa and do some wintering in the Arizona mountains. Her goal is to empower her readers. 



Linda Glaz said...

Ahh, yes. The junk drawer. Let's see we have 27 drawers in the house, 26 of which are junk drawers. Sigh

Mary Connealy said...

That file full of cut backstory = a junk drawer. I like it, Gail. :)

Donna B said...

I not only have a junk drawer, but a junk room (well, not the whole room), and a junk garage (where of course there is no room for a car). Hmmm where do I Much easier to cut chunks out of my story!

Karla Akins said...

Great analogy! I love it when edits make us free. It's such a great feeling and you captured it well.

David said...

A very appropriate point as I found a short story I wrote, on yellow paper in long hand,back in 1970!