Avoiding Seduction

By Bob McCrillis

Got your attention, didn’t I? Certainly generates more interest than Paperclips: the pros and cons.

Yes, I was serious last week when I told you I’d be talking about paperclips this week. The modern “Gem-type” paperclip has been in production since the late 19th century. The exact date of its incarnation is in doubt but there is general agreement that it was in the 1890’s. And, in my opinion, has been helping disorganized people become even more disorganized for the past century and a half.

The little twist of wire’s utility as a missile in the office or classroom is well known. It also provides raw material for the Zen-like chain making that gets all writers and other office drones through conference calls. It can even, reportedly, be used as a make-shift lock pick. It, oh yes, also holds sheets of paper together.

What is rarely admitted is the device’s satanic underside. Clearly, as the result of a clever plot, these nasty little objects have infested desk drawers all across the nation. Their indestructability causes seemingly-endless population growth, posing a serious threat to writers everywhere.

Many of us have been lured into using the clips to temporarily bind the sheet of the latest rewrite of a scene or chapter – or even pieces of a query. That little piece of wire promises to gently hold our work without marring the pristine expanse of sparkling white and midnight black. No nasty fang marks in the corner nor ugly corner creases will be left to tell of a prior reader. Do not succumb!

For a writer, time to write is precious. But my conflicted relationship with the activity often leads to doing almost anything to not write. I don’t need the humbling suspicion that I’m not really that good, or that no one wants to read my stuff, or, worst of all, I’m one of those pathetic people who don’t have a real friend to tell them their work stinks. My unfinished novel, poem, or short story is always great. And, if I never finish it, there will be no one to tell me otherwise.

My creativity often makes itself known through the various subterfuges I invent to avoid actually putting words down on papers. One of my favorite time-wasters is looking for stuff. Convinced that I already re-wrote a scene, I have spent hours pawing through paper and reviewing files on my computer – far more time than it would have taken me to write the damn scene from scratch.

The culprit? Wanna guess? The fiendish paperclip that held scene 7A together captured the critical page from scene 22 that contained the idea and phrasing I wanted to use. When I subsequently punched the scene and put it in my binder, it included that sheet – and the damn paperclip laughing in triumph.

Those of you who’ve been paying attention to my earlier posts will note that, had I paginated either scene, I might have recognized the problem sooner. Further, a header on each page would have allowed me to quickly find that one page in 7A didn’t belong. Tuition is expensive – not always in money.

So I say, “Get thee behind me, foul paperclip!”

My current precept: one scene on the desk at a time – when I’m done with it, put it back in the binder. If I want to carry material to another location and don’t want to lug a big, white three-ring binder, each scene is stapled together. Note that the stapler has an equally long and prestigious pedigree as the insidious paperclip – and won’t be used by a co-worker to accidentally put your eye out.

This brings me to the last topic in my organization screed – throw prior versions away.

I know this is anathema in our community but those prior versions are going to weasel their way into your work either physically or mentally. This leads to more unproductive monkey-motion while deciding if the one I’m looking at is the latest/best. When I can’t bear to murder my babies or think there might be something useful in them, I chuck them into a big file called “Compost.” Maybe someday I’ll be stuck for something to write about and paw through it to find an overlooked gem.

Now there’s an epitaph – He produced his best work elbow-deep in the midden.


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