What you can do with your old writing (video)

Viewing time: 4 minutes and 1 second

The Write Question is a weekly video podcast about writing that I started in 2017 and that ran, more or less weekly, until April 2022. This is a republication of issue #25, describing what you can do with your old writing. The post first ran on July 21/17.


Welcome to The Write Question, the video-podcast designed to answer your questions about writing. I’m Daphne Gray-Grant.

Today I’m answering a question from business communicator Kelly Hennessey, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Here’s her question.

[recording] As you can see behind me, I have a bunch of journals and these journals are filled with all kinds of things — work things, personal things, relationship things — and I have journals like this all over my house. I have them in my bedroom, I have them in my bookshelves, I have them right behind me and I’m kind of worried that if I died tomorrow, people will come across these journals and read things that will hurt their feelings or even profoundly change how my relationship was perceived by them. They’re a little bit of concern and I’m wondering if you can help me figure out how to get them under control and get them to a spot where somebody won’t be hurt or maybe how I might actually dispose of them. Just curious about how to organize this journal mess in my house. Thanks!

Thanks for the question, Kelly.

My heart clutched a little when I heard your recording because *I* have some of that type of writing lying around the house, too. And I haven’t figured out what to do with it either.  

After a little research, I found a very wise blog entry from my colleague Erin Doland who has a great website called Unclutterer. I’ve included a link below.

She suggests the decision to keep or dump writing should be based on your answer to the question “Why did I write this material?”

Here are the four reasons she cites:

  1. To work through problems in your life
  2. To vent your frustrations
  3. To record messages to your future self
  4. To create a record that you were alive in that moment

Erin suggests — and I agree — that if the first two reasons describe your case, you should burn or shred the documents and not look back. But if the last two reasons fit, then you might want to keep the documents. Remember that you can safeguard anything on a computer with a password. And if you want future generations to have access to the material, be sure to include the password in your will.

Here are some other ideas for how to organise your old writing.

Have you considered scanning your work? I use a scanner called the Fujitsu Scansnap, because I find it’s faster than any other scanner I’ve tried. But regardless of which scanner you’re using, if you’re cutting materials out of old journals, just be sure to use a really sharp blade, like an Xacto knife, so you create sharp edges.

Also remember, as long as the text won’t be hurtful, some of it might be a great gift for future generations. A recent post I read online mentioned how much pleasure the poster had gotten out reading letters between her parents that she’d received for Christmas one year.

Another commenter said, “My 17-year-old thought she was a freak from how she felt in life until she read my great-great-grandmothers journal. She commented on how she went through the SAME things back in the 1800’s and how it must be normal.”

That said, many people who burn their journals describe feeling nothing but relief as if a big burden has been removed from their shoulders.

Really, it comes down to you. Why did you write the journals in the first place? If you can answer that question, you should be able to figure out whether to keep or burn them.

Let me wrap up with a final quote from Erin Doland, in the event you do decide to keep most of your writing: “Choosing to keep an object means that you’re choosing to have the object be a part of your life. Put the journals on a shelf in a low-traffic area of your home and then read them when the mood strikes.”

Thanks for your question, Kelly. Good luck with uncluttering and/or curating your work. I’m going to wish myself luck with this project, too.



Fujitsu ScanSnap


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