Deb Molly is a Keeper*

Hoarder BarbieI don’t do “moving on.”

I also don’t do “getting over,” “throwing away,” or “forgetting.”

I still have the dress I wore to the 8th grade semi-formal, the converse all-stars I wore in high school, and mix tapes from college. I’m still super close with my best friend from pre-school. My college boyfriend is still one of my dearest friends. If I had limitless cash, I would go dig my first car — a 1987 Renault Alliance — out of the junkyard and have it rebuilt. (It wouldn’t BE in a junkyard if I had my way — after it died, it stayed in my mother’s garage for five years until she gave me an ultimatum: get rid of the Renault, or find a new family.)

I’m not a hoarder, I swear. I’m just…. loyal. A little sentimental. And I have a crazy memory that won’t let me forget who gave me that book, or how much I loved that mug when I was little, or how much I appreciated the nice thing my boss said to me fifteen years ago.

I’m sure it will come as a great shock, then, that I also don’t believe in throwing away writing ideas.

I write to figure things out, to wrestle with ideas and experiences I can’t quite make sense of, to clarify my thoughts and find closure. As the saying goes, “How can I tell what I think until I see what I say?” I write about things that bother me, and things I wish I’d said at the time. I write to work through my own questions and challenge advice that no longer rings true.

The times when I can sit down and actually turn my thoughts into sentences, and wind multiple strands of thought into one cohesive piece? When I read over what I’ve written and say, yes, yes, that’s it. That is exactly it.

Those times are what make writing worth it.

Once I’ve written the thing I set out to write — captured the moment, rendered the image, worked through the question, solved the puzzle — I can let it go. Or — more accurately — it lets me go.

But until then? It sits in my mind, heavy and unanswered, with the weight of things undone. I can walk away — I can take on other projects — I can try to exorcise it by talking it through. (I once put a novel-length project to rest by telling it to a friend over dinner. We were sitting out on the patio at El Pinto in Albuquerque, and I spent half of dinner just telling this story. She loved it. After that night, I never felt the need to go back to it.)

I can’t make a list, as Deb Joanne did, of all the projects I’ve written and abandoned, because though I certainly have other projects, I’m not sure I’ve abandoned any of them yet. Walked away from, yes. Taken a break from. Given distance. Reassessed. Rethought. Reapproached.

But abandoned? Never.

For instance. Currently, I’m working on a story that began as my very first novel. The summer after I graduated from college, I lived with my mother and did almost nothing of consequence. I read books and ate apples and watched Days of Our Lives. Every night after sunset I walked the dog 2.5 miles out to a stop sign on a country highway, and 2.5 miles back into town. Around midnight, I’d sit down at the computer and type. I wrote a beginning that I loved:

For one week every summer, the Ferris Wheel is the tallest thing on the long, hot horizon. When the week’s over, and the wheel has been taken apart spoke by spoke, when the Zipper and the Tilt-O-Whirl have been packed onto the trucks that drive them from town to midwestern town, the hazy summer sky clings to the after-image of the fair. It hangs there for hours, the memory of the midway: a thin web of bars and chains etched against the tangerine sunset sky, like when you stare at lights long enough to still see them with your eyes shut, or like when Mom finally took down the picture of her and Daddy and the square on the wall behind it was a darker shade of yellow.

(I still kind of love it. I’d probably edit it, but I still kind of love it.)

I wrote and wrote, all summer long. And then I kept working on it for the next three years, until it was more than 300 pages long and nowhere near finished. The middle was muddled, the pacing was funky, and some of the writing was truly terrible.

But even though the book itself wasn’t working, I loved the characters, and I felt I hadn’t yet done them justice. They still had a story to tell, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to write it for them.

So I put it away and worked on other things. I co-authored a middle grade novel with a good friend. I wrote a bunch of awful short stories. I started working on the book that eventually became The Princesses of Iowa. I started other books too — NaNoWriMo projects, idea maps, random first chapters that didn’t go anywhere. I revised Princesses a billion times. I spent a lot of time working on what I thought would be my second published novel. I came to an impasse with it and decided we needed to take a break.

And now, ten years after I started, I’m back at work on that very first novel. It’s totally different, of course. A different character is now the protagonist, and the story arc has changed due to the POV switch. But at its heart, it’s the same story I started the summer after college, and with this one, I know it’s not going to let me go until I do it justice.


Please tell me I’m not alone! Anyone out there who can’t walk away? Anyone who broke up with a book and then came back to it?




*or maaaaaaaaaaaaaybe a hoarder. MAYBE. I just love too much, okay?

14 Replies to “Deb Molly is a Keeper*”

  1. First off, did you take that picture because its near genius.

    As for keeping everything, I have gotten so much better over the years. In fact, I get a huge rush of relief from cleaning out closets and getting rid of stuff. But there are some things I can’t let go of–and among them are my old manuscripts. Not because I will revisit them, but because I can’t bear to.

    Now this isn’t true of all my writing…I wrote a blog post last year when I finally threw away my journals, 15 years of them. I made the decision when I finally tried to crack one open and read them and couldn’t get two sentences in before my skin began to crawl. I just couldn’t do it. Not because I have regrets or weirdness, but because I think I’m just not able to “go there” anymore. More than that, I genuinely would feel awful if my kids found them and while there’s nothing shocking in them, I don’t know it would really benefit them to read this stuff. I used to think my journals were there to be maintained, but that day I decided it was the act of writing them, the purging of all the good and bad and indifferent that was the role of journals FOR ME.

    Now ask me about my daughters drawings. I can’t part with a single one and I know pretty soon I’ll need to rent storage space to keep them, and I’m okay with that 😉

    1. I didn’t take the picture — the internet is full of strange and creepy treasures. 🙂

      I still have all my journals, and I can’t imagine throwing them away, but I don’t know. Give me another ten or twenty years and I may revise my position.

      But lest anyone fear my health or safety, I would like to report that I actually just gave a whole bag of clothes and a bunch of purses to the local thrift store. (But I still need my wife to throw away old shoes for me, because what if they’re sad?) (Okay, I do have problems.)

  2. Okay, this post makes me feel much better about the state of my basement. And, sadly, I’m not the only one in my family with hang-onto-it-itis, so it’s not only my crap–er, I mean treasured memorabilia–down there, cluttering every corner.

    1. Haha, we call my dad’s basement “the room of requirement,” because basically anything you might need — screwdriver? board game? microwave? — is probably down there.

  3. Erika’s right – that pic is pure genius. Pure CREEPY genius. Yikes.

    I also keep everything, but I just don’t return to it. My husband is appalled and amazed at the number of files on my computer including cut scenes aplenty and even numerous outdated versions of manuscripts (I date them now, so I know which is most recent). I even still have that manuscript I wrote and never read again (nor ever will I) and I will probably never delete it. I’m not sure why. We should start a support group.

    Until then, I love the sounds of your new project, Molly. Full-circle, huh?

    1. Full circle! There are plenty of projects I’ve walked away from, because they don’t compel me anymore, but the handful of ones that keep nagging at me? I know I’ll keep coming back to them until I get them right.

      Support group!

  4. You’re definitely not alone, Molly! Every now and then when I get stuck, I return to revise the first mystery novel I wrote as an adult— set in the Caribbean, after our first trip there— over 25 years ago! I just
    love the characters and the setting so much, I can’t let them go.

    I also have journals that go back even further in time, (along with photo albums) and I occasionally use them to look up bits of trivia. My scribblings then are sometimes cringe-worthy, often hilarious, many times filled with tediously boring details, and on rare occasions, surprisingly stocked with a few very well-written passages.

    I love the beginning of your first novel and really hope you finish it to your liking and get it published!

    BTW, your picture has definitely convinced me to start Spring Cleaning early, so our house won’t look like Hoarder Barbie’s! 😉

    1. I’m glad I could help! 🙂

      But yes, I return to old journals for the same way — to clarify a memory, or reassure myself that I didn’t make something up. I used to be much more diligent about journal keeping, and I’m not as much anymore, which means that everything I wrote down between the ages of like 15 and 28 is cemented in my memory, and everything before and after that is a blur.

      … yet another reason I write for young adults!

  5. I’m with you! (Minus that terrifying doll.) I have a hard time throwing things away including stories. Once I’ve created a character I feel obligated to finish their story. Otherwise what happens to them? I picture them floating around in space, calling out to me to stop procrastinating.

  6. The awful bit I’m writing right now may come back to love me? Awesome! 😀 PS. Totally thinking of lazy Midwest summer fairs with that first sentence. Almost makes me miss the Midwest enough to visit in the haze of summer …

    1. The phrase “come back to love me”? I love.

      Also, the Midwest is great! Really! Remember the fields and fields of fireflies? The endless night sky, velvety with humidity? The long, flat horizon where the sunset took its sweet time? 4th of July, when you could see fireworks from all the surrounding towns? Just-picked-today sweet corn on the cob? Midwestern state fairs?? BUTTER COW????

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