There was a pile of 3.5 floppy disks safely protected in a wooden box on the bookshelf I was dismantling to make room for...well, nothing. We just wanted more roominess in our home office. Judging from the labels, there didn’t appear to be anything really earthshaking housed on those thin magnetic films, as there were as many things crossed out and written over as there were true identifying labels. (As a computer lab instructor, I used to shock and surprise my elementary-school students by cracking open a disk and showing them why they were called “floppy” since the hard plastic case was anything but. I earned my “cool” teacher designation by destructing the mysterious disks!)
But curiosity got the best of me; I couldn’t just throw them out, could I? What if something important was on those disks? What if I had written the Great American Novel on one of them and had just forgotten about it? It was a twelve-inch high pile of disks. Surely there was some profound and vital literary work on those floppies!

Any machine that would be able to read those disks had been relegated--in pieces--to the attic, garage or tag sale so I found and bought a floppy disk reader online. Many of the disks could have probably been tossed right out unchecked, but I’m compulsive enough to have looked at every single one of them. Some disks couldn’t be read, thank god, but I was able to pull quite a bit of my old work off of most of them. I found poems written for my kids and other kids I used to teach, a couple of short stories about women in dire circumstances, letters to editors, papers from my graduate program, beginnings of essays, notes on characters, several personal journals and reams more, some yet to retrieve. 

If you ever have the opportunity to delve into previously forgotten past work, plan on spending some time with it. Much of my writing was done during difficult and challenging times in my life. Divorce, single parenthood, weeks when I was squeezing pennies until they screamed and other times where my understanding of reality was not what it is now. Some of these disks are from twenty years ago or more and the emotion is still there, as if magnetically recorded along with the keystrokes. I was drawn right into those emotions, they are stored in my brain and easily accessed. Once, after a session with my old writing, I feel like I came out of it blinking back the light, as if I had just awakened from a deep sleep. I was a little disoriented; I needed to take some time to “come back” to the present day. I hope you don’t mind a Harry Potter reference (because I’m a serious HP fan) but rereading the words, ideas and conclusions I wrote years ago was like ducking my head into the Pensieve and remembering a world I had lost touch with. (OK...for the non-HP fans, the Pensieve is a bowl of water/gas-like substance that contains the memories of an individual and Harry dunks his head into it to get an idea of what this person was experiencing and thereby gaining insight into previously misunderstood actions or behaviors. See? Relevant.)

A word of warning: I experienced some regret. It had to do with the fact that I hadn’t committed more effort to pursuing an actual writing career. I let so many things dissuade my desire; some legitimate things, like an income. But others, like fear, were revealed as insubstantial as the floppy films themselves.  However, there are a couple of things I discovered that makes going back in worthwhile: The first is that my voice remains true. I wrote my master’s thesis on staying true to one’s writing voice and I continue to champion the writer’s voice in my classes and as an editor of the annual anthology for those students.

The second thing, and maybe what made me feel really good, is I like my work. I’ve always said (to anyone who will listen) that even if no one ever read my essays, articles and stories, I enjoy them. I have been known to chuckle aloud at my own essays. It feels boastful to admit that, but it’s true. If you think about it, if you don’t like your own work, why bother spending all that time and energy on writing or sending out queries or submitting to contests, journals or websites? It’s like not liking your own children, but raising them anyway.

For those of us who struggle to make our writing important in our daily lives, I think it is equally important to stay connected with our body of work. Our past efforts--stories, journal entries, submissions--inform our present efforts; we build on our successes and mistakes, over and over again.  Even if you don’t uncover a previously forgotten Great American Novel (I didn’t) there is real substance in the work we’ve left behind, forgotten in drawers, in notebooks, old floppies or buried in files on our computer. For me, digging though those files gave me a sense of continuity and the encouragement to stay the course.

It’s not really work we can quit, is it?

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Comment by Jo Anne Valentine Simson on April 19, 2016 at 9:59pm

Terrific! Isn't it fun to relive your past life through past writing? I've been doing that lately, too, although not with floppy discs. Rather, I've been sorting through old typewritten manuscripts as well as some old tape-recordings. I, too, have discovered some "gems" as well as some "ugly rocks." As an eighty-year-old who''s had a rich and complicated life, I'm just hoping I'll have the time to polish and publish the gems. 

Comment by JoAnne Graham Fletcher on April 13, 2016 at 9:34am

Cindy, this was a great article. I too have put many articles onto these little disks and the new computers no longer has imported a 3.5 disk drive. I wasn't aware there was a machine to purchase to read these.  Personally I liked the 3.5 disk to the CD's today.  I also like to read my past work.  I had saved a lot into my document file, but I printed so I had a paper trail since I've also had computers go down on me and had no way to retrieve my file.  I  do think if someone is going to toss these away, they need to take a hammer to them so no one can get hold of your info.

Comment by Irene Allison on January 4, 2016 at 5:57am

Lovely post, Cindy! Yes, indeed, writing is a long-term relationship and I really like your idea of staying connected with writings of the past. Over the years (decades) I've kept my writings and journals. Every so often I'll sneak a peak back through the work, just a random thing, just by chance. And it is always an interesting experience, rediscovering parts of myself that were forgotten, moments that had such importance, and sometimes writing that contained surprising "zing" and truth. Reading that now, years later, can be a real eye-opener and often a precious encounter with that "firmament" that makes writing so special. Surely that's why we're writers! (And yes, me too, I wish I'd made writing more of an essential priority years ago!) Thank you for sharing this!

Comment by Michelle Cox on December 29, 2015 at 9:02pm

You're brave, Cindy, to go back and look at old work!  I really have to build up courage - sure that I will cringe myself into a coma or something as I read, but then once I do, I'm usually pleasantly surprised and think, "I should have published this!"  Not everything, but enough to warrant a read-through of old material.  And you're right.  Writing is fun, and the stories continue in your head anyway, whether you write them down or not!

Comment by Cindy Eastman on December 28, 2015 at 12:31pm

Thank you both, Victoria and Amelia. It always surprises me to go back and find something I've written that actually sounds good and makes sense! Writing is a long-term relationship, isn't it? :)

Comment by Amelia Painter on December 27, 2015 at 6:46am

I like my work too!  It is nice when other people like it as well, but not really important to me.  I write because I enjoy writing. I enjoy sharing my knowledge, my experiences, etc. 

Thank you for this article. It felt validating when I read it.

Comment by Victoria Chames on December 23, 2015 at 5:20pm

I've kept a personal journal for about 4 decades, and I still find it interesting and often surprisingly enlightening, on any given day to go back to that day in another year. One year ago, ten years ago, anywhere in between. It's always astonishing how much clearer I can see things now - about what happened then, which can be a great eye-opener and insight into what's happening now. 

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