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Ms. Merriwether’s Advice to Writers on Life

The questions and answers we all seek, vol. 2


Dear Ms. Merriwether,

I am stymied by boxes of archived writing and other ephemera I have acquired. Ever since I retired, which is, alas, five years ago, I vowed to sort through these boxes and organize my writing. I also own original floppy disks and hard drives that have brilliant drafts on them, but now I don’t even know what the drafts are about. What should I do?

Signed, Flummoxed by Flotsam


Gentle Reader,

Ms. Merriwether is aware that writers have many lovely qualities. A highly creative side, a good sense of humor, and being well-read are among the characteristics Ms. Merriwether appreciates.

Organization, alas, is not typically one of the writerly qualities. I am sure there are writers — one may be reading this dispatch — who are organized, but I have never met them.

When I was a student, I went into the archives of a particular collection and found many interesting clippings and stories. I realized, however, that archive is just a polite term for junk that someone didn’t have the heart to throw away and donated to some prestigious or scholarly source.

There are great researchers and historians–Robert Caro comes to mnd–who advise turning over each piece of paper. Mr. Caro has written wonderful tomes on Robert Moses and Lyndon B. Johnson and discovered telling documentation. He is the exception. Many writers today call it research when they can cite two or three internet sources.

I would suggest you set aside a modest amount of time daily to go through your boxes. Remember, would you want your heirs to have this job? Would you want your heirs to read your lovelorn letter to an 18-year-old heartthrob which you never sent and now you don’t remember his last name?

As for your outdated technology, I would ask you, do you really intend to do anything with these items? You can find a place you pay to transcribe a floppy disk. It will cost you money and time. But, my dear, if you are not already a famous writer with a number of bestsellers under your belt, the chances you will discover unmined gold are…remote. Ms. Merriwether recommends the heartless advice to writers everywhere, “Kill your darlings.”

Dear Ms. Merriwether,

I am dating a wonderful man, who is charming and good-looking and has a good job. However, he is not a reader. He watches sports and likes biking and hiking. But he does not read, not even the sports section of an online newspaper.

What should I do?

Signed, Writer Languishing for a Reader


Gentle Reader,

What shall you talk about? Perhaps you have wonderful friends through a book club. However, unless your goal is simply to have a meal ticket, Ms. Merriwether recommends you sever this relationship. End it. Tomorrow.


Ms. Merriwether may respond to questions from readers posed in the comments.

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  1. SingingFrogPress
    | Reply

    And these! Wonderful indeed!

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