Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Burn

Last week we had a good friend over for dinner. He is someone who I respect as a poet and person. After dinner he told us about how he and another friend had gotten together and decided to do a “burn”. It's not what you might be thinking.

He explained that they gathered their early manuscripts, notebooks, revisions and anything earlier than the last three years of writing, built a fire and then burned their work.

I asked a ton of questions like: Did they sort it? Did they read through it first? Was there any particular order to the burning? All of the answers were no. He stated that it was just a fire and two guys burning what needed to be shed.

What a concept, I thought. Especially for me who has boxes of hard copies, years of notebooks and back-up USB drives to my back-up files online. I wondered if I could do some burning.

It wasn't until I received my latest rejection letter that I put the thought into action.

What was I holding onto all this stuff for anyway? I wasn't planning to wallpaper a room with my rejection letters; they were in a box in the basement. And I am pretty sure that even if I become a bestselling writer, no one is going to buy any of my early manuscripts.

So I started the process and after three days of digging and sorting I ended up with two boxes and a milk crate full of writing. I kept the notebooks and journals from 2009 to now (seven to be exact), a couple critiques, and my very first book of poetry I wrote (in 8th grade) but everything else had to go.
Extraneous stuff that needs to go.
My husband, Tim, was kind enough to help out by clearing a place in the snow and collecting some wood (albeit wet). I carried out the milk crate of paper and I started burning.

We sat around the fire and put in page after page, notebook after love letter after manuscript. And it took longer than I thought. In fact we didn't even get to the other boxes.
Aftermath of "The Burn".
But I can't even begin to explain the catharsis. It was even better than I had imagined. Unlike my friend, I read some stuff aloud and some quietly to myself. And though it was interesting to see where I used to be as a writer. It was amazing to realize how much I have grown as a writer.

My husband said that it was a great example of living in the now. And he proceeded to gather up some old photos.

We have another burn planned. And we might make a party of it. Invite some friends, drink some wine and burn collectively.

I encourage you to give it a try. Even if it's just one page, just one sentence.

Regina Gort


  1. This made me hyperventilate! I have to admit to having the "novel" that I wrote in 1978 when I was in the 8th grade. I looked at it for the first time in over 30 years when my son (who was in 8th grade) asked to read it, and found that I had typed it on the back of middle school flyers, high school scheduling forms, etc. Burning it? Don't know. But I'm glad that it was helpful for you!

    1. That is priceless. How can you throw that away? Did your son enjoy it?

    2. Sorry to have caused a panic attack, so not my intention. It's really about letting go and knowing that I have grown as a writer and a person. And I love that you have your first novel for your family to read.

  2. I love this idea! I end up holding onto drafts for way too long and have to remind myself that I won't be checking those comments from old workshops anymore. I just did a big purge a couple of weeks ago, but it was to the recycling bin--not nearly as cool.

    1. I considered the recycle bin as it is more earth friendly but I needed the ritual aspect of the burn to actually get me to do it.

  3. Admire your being able to do it & I'm glad you found it helpful, but I can't, I can't, I can't!

    1. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow but some day you will have the courage to burn!