I’ve been cleaning out my garage for a few weeks and it has been an interesting archeological dig. I’ve discovered things I’d forgotten I had: floppy disks, antique electronics, computer magazines from 1983, tax returns from the early 1990s, magazine clippings, old Girl Scout camping equipment, and the children’s schoolwork from kindergarten. Some of these items are the sort of thing that one wishes to save—the children’s drawings from kindergarten, for instance—and others—like 1990s tax returns and antique electronics—which can safely be tossed. Some of the stuff, such as the children’s school papers, clippings from newspapers and magazines, my old papers from college, I intend to scan into my computer before discarding.
You might imagine electronic files are more ephemeral than paper, and that I should keep the originals, but that’s not necessarily the case. Somewhat obviously, a garage is not exactly an ideal spot for preserving paper. Newspaper clippings turn yellow and brittle with frightening speed. In fact, the deterioration of most paper manufactured in the twentieth century is a significant problem. Books and magazines from that era are already turning to dust and libraries—especially university libraries and the Library of Congress—are faced with a daunting task of trying to preserve such materials. Paper of the last century was manufactured by a process that left high acidic levels, so that the paper essentially consumes itself over time. That’s why the pages of old books turn yellow or brown: bad manufacturing choices. Books that are older than that, say from before the 1800s, can endure for centuries. The pages of the Gutenberg Bible from the fifteenth century are still as white as when they first came off the press.
So, converting older papers to electronic format is one of the better ways of preserving information that you don’t want crumbling into dust. The other advantage is that once it’s in electronic format, it won’t exist in just one spot. Since I back up my files to various cloud storage facilities—One Drive, Google Drive, and Drop Box—in addition to CDs and external hard drives—a fire or flood or other unfortunate disaster is less likely to destroy my data. The girls’ kindergarten drawings when converted into PDFs will be actually be much safer in the long run. The added advantage is that they will become easy to find in the future: rather than digging through boxes in a dirty garage for hours and hours, I will simply type a line in the search bar on my computer and bring up what I want in a fraction of a second.
I’ve been writing and attempting to get things published for the better part of my life—since I was about sixteen, in fact. Not surprisingly, I have experienced much rejection along the way. All of those rejections have arrived in the form of written documentation: the notorious rejection letters that authors talk about between sobs.
Until the advent of the twenty-first century, such rejection letters were physical objects, usually badly photocopied “form” rejections stuffed in the self-addressed envelope I provided for the editor’s response.
Over my life I have collected hundreds of these things for short stories, magazine articles, and books. Even now, with multiple published books, this column, and a blog with the Jerusalem Post, I still collect rejections. In fact, I got one just this week for a movie pitch.
And I’ve saved every last one of them. Why? I’ve had a vague notion that I might have a rejection letter burning party, sort of like a mortgage burning party for when you pay off your mortgage. But after I finally had a book published, I couldn’t find any of my old rejections.
This past week I finally discovered them in a corner of my garage, tucked among some old tax returns. The rejections amount to two large stacks of paper, perhaps a ream’s worth. So I might need to get some sort of permit before I torch them.
Glancing through the piles, I was surprised at how many were not form letters. At the time I had received them, I didn’t think about the difference between form rejections and personal rejections where the editor had taken time to write in some detail about my submission. No was no. But looking back on them now, I recognize that such rejections mean I came close to publication many times before I finally found an editor that would buy what I wrote. Rejection does not come only because you’re a bad writer; all too often it’s just because the timing was wrong.
Now I need to decide whether I actually want to burn these old rejections, or whether I should scan them into my computer and save them.
Of course, I could just do both.