One problem with being a graphomaniac is forgetting what you’ve written. I’m glad to know I’m not alone in this. Once we had the eminent historian Owen Chadwick to our house for dinner. We of course had invited some students as well. At one point one of the students asked him about something in one of his books. The famed historian shook his head, not recalling it. “One writes so much,” he replied. Now, I’m not comparing myself with a knighted academic of international fame, but his remark in our living room has stayed with me all these years. There are over 4,400 published posts on this blog, over a million and a half words, by my calculation. Not even I remember everything I wrote. “One writes so much…”
Just the other day I was looking for something I wrote. You see, when I get an idea for a book (which happens frequently) I start writing it. Inevitably, since I have very little time for writing on a daily basis, given my job, it joins many other partially written books. Unless something like a book contract happens, my interests shift from one project to another, slowly building each up to near book length. Once a project reaches that point I try to finish it off. This involves writing and countless edits. Holy Horror, for example, went through fifteen rewrites, some of them extensive. Before it was sent to the publisher other books had already been started. A conversation the other day reminded me of a book I’d started and I couldn’t find it.
My backup discs are a jumble of projects that take up too much memory on my laptop. I try to organize them, but when a computer warning comes on while in the middle of a project one tends to cram things aside until one has room to finish up what one’s currently working on. All of this authorial drama takes place before the sun rises, and when enough time passes I don’t always remember which file I put that old project into. What did I even call it? Writing, you see, requires constant practice. Working nine-to-five creates a sense that you owe a great deal of time to your employer. (Ironically, in my case, helping other people get published.) The people I talked to the other day thought that that unfound idea sounded like a viable book. Perhaps it is, if only I could remember where I put it. Meanwhile I remember Sir Chadwick’s words from a quarter-a-century ago.