With retirement imminent, I have a campus office to clean out and a house to put up for sale. That means getting rid of lots of stuff. That means finally throwing away notes, photocopies, and assorted research materials I’ve accumulated over the course of teaching for twenty-five years and writing three books.
Three books in twenty-five years. Looking back, that doesn’t seem like a lot. Then I remind myself that I wrote those books while I taught a 4-4 load, with about 155 students per semester and no teaching assistants. Plus I had committee work. And a family.
From my study at home, I sifted through stacks of papers that had been sitting on various books shelves, chairs, and even on my desk. I threw away (well, actually recycled) several grocery bags full of stuff. I felt a little guilty at the thought that maybe another historian might find some of these items useful. But only a little guilty. Tracking down the research is half the fun of writing books. I wouldn’t want to deprive anyone else of that thrill by making it too easy.
In my campus office, I’ve mostly pitched course materials. Those have been easy to toss since they are all available electronically, should I ever need them again. All of the knowledge that went into crafting lectures and class discussions doesn’t need to exist in physical form anymore.
Today I went through an old file of correspondence (actual letters, some of it, and a few printed out emails) from the mid-1990s. That could have been labeled the Failure File. It’s where I collected my first rounds of rejections for a book and for several articles.
(not one of my rejections)
I didn’t spend too much time reading through the correspondence before consigning it to the recycling bin. But I did smile when I came across an email exchange I’d had with a very prominent “second wave” feminist who was crazy about what I thought would be my first book. She hadn’t read the actual manuscript; I’d only told her what it was about. She thought it was wonderful and important and was sure it would find a good publishing home. It didn’t. But I think her encouragement helped me move beyond that project and led me to write the three books that did get published.
It’s true that writers work through rejections. It’s never pleasant, only a fact of the writing life. But it’s balanced by the encouragement–unexpected and otherwise–that you get along the way.