written by Melissa Connolly
Last month I took a few days for myself, a kind of retreat, to work on the edits for my novel. After three years, the novel has been through several workshops, advisers and the occasional Tuesday night writers’ group. In two bursting shopping bags, I brought every copy of red-lined sections and chapters I had gotten back from all my colleagues and professors, all the comments – good and bad. Together, the 2 bags weighed about 50 pounds, the equivalent of 10 reams of paper…or about 5,000 pages.
I envisioned a Bonfire of the Versions for myself, a fire quickly set, quickly burned, at sunset of my final night of the retreat, a symbolic letting go of all the versions I was leaving behind in this edit. Perhaps I’d dance around the fire, some mystic Celtic ceremony. Paper burns easily, right?
Wrong. As it turns out, 50 pounds of paper is more like a really big log. I needed kindling to get the paper going and then it kept blowing out. Fizzling out, really. The smoke was terrible, black and gray, so much worse than burning fragrant pine or clean dry beech logs. It wasn’t a campfire. It was a smoldering pile of garbage. I worked for 45 minutes trying to get flames that could lick the sky and learned a hard lesson. That much paper is a tree. It doesn’t burn so easily.
I put it out the smoldering, smoky gray ashes with a bucket of water, stuffed the now wet, heavy and singed paper in two big black garbage bags and took it to the dump. The lesson being: for a writer, recycling the paper is probably a better metaphor.