Have you ever stumbled across something you wrote years ago and cringed? While some writers tend to throw away old works or pieces that just don’t work I am a bower bird. I gather up and archive by date everything I’ve worked on and as such have computer disks of articles, poems, stories, snippets, plots and lists that gather dust.
Every now and again I go on an adventure into the past to measure my artistic growth or hunt for long forgotten nuggets and raw gemstones. These archives are a wondrous mine of information and inspiration.
Date Everything: I find the most vital piece of information dug up in my archive is dates. By tracking dates you can watch patterns of creativity and progress. It is also interesting to consider what events caused various inspirations.
For example: In 2000 I wrote a number of poems that focused on creating life and the responsibility of parenting. These track back to the months I was pregnant with my first child and showed how much this major life event was in my thoughts. I compare these earlier attempts with similar poems written in 2004 (the birth of my son) and can stage the amazing growth those four years played in maturity, voice and technique.
Polishing Gems: Sometimes I dig through my archives and uncover an unpolished gem. If I remember writing the piece I also tend to remember the frustration I felt at the time. The work might not have come easily and I may never have been satisfied with what I created. Years later, I come back and the raw material is there. With the experience gained in those intervening years I can shape, craft and polish the writing into something sharper and clearer than the original.
Sifting Ideas: These archives area also a wealth of ideas for new material. Topics that have fallen out of you interest can be sparked or characters you had forgotten about may come back to life with an archive revival. Old blog/journal entries, poems or articles may be the lead you need for a new novel or the character of an older story the bones of a new one.
Photographs and Pictures: Other things to include in your archives are photographs, drawings and graphics. “A pictures is worth a thousand words” and you may just find those words are drawn out of you by an old photograph or painting.
Reading: Being immersed in language and art is a wonderful way to recharge your creativity. Reading is a great way to relax and the added delight of enjoying your own writing and rediscovering pieces you had forgotten about is empowering for your spirit. Yes, some of the work will be cringe worthy, but it is also enlivening. How far has time brought you?
Do you keep an archive of your work? Why or why not? How do you measure your artistic growth? Do you feel it’s important to look back and see the path you’ve trod?