I always encourage writers to save their writing. I have old notebooks of writings and poems that date back to my teenage years. I’ve saved word docs from over 10 years ago with stories and articles that I never polished and finalized. I keep these because I never know when I’ll be writing something and remember that I have an old anecdote, story, or paragraph from years back that will fit perfectly into what I’m writing now. Always save your writing, friends. An old piece might end up being a great launching point for a new one.
I used to run an email list called The Dailie Break. Unoriginal, right? Well, it was twenty years ago. It was before the internet took shape in its current form. There wasn’t social media yet and even blogs weren’t a thing. (Can you imagine?) While a daily email wasn’t an earth-shattering idea, there also wasn’t a lot of them going around. I ran it for nearly seven years. With no intention of doing anything more than sending it out to a few people, the list expanded exponentially from five original subscribers. It grew by word of mouth, quite to my surprise.
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The point is not to share a trip down memory lane with you, though. When I knew that The Dailie Break had run its course and I was done with it, I sent one final email to my readers. I had no intention other than to offer a heartfelt email that day. I saved it, and to this day, I’m still not sure why.
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Years later, when I was writing the short story Expect Dragons, I sat down to write Mr. Smith’s 40 Tips for College and Life. Wracking my brain writing and rewriting them, I remembered the old email I sent and a few sentences in there that I enjoyed. I dug it up and went through it. I had no idea, nor any intention of using this email later on in my writing. It’s not very good. The grammar is poor and there are errors that need to be edited. But I had the wherewithal to save the darn thing and I was glad I did.
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Here is a portion of that email from over 10 years ago in all its poorly written glory (some of it will look familiar):
7 years ago, this May, The Dailie Break was born at the back-corner cubicle of a law firm in downtown Minneapolis. As a young 22-year-old, I was full of excitement and energy, interning for a law firm, waiting tables, and playing in endless Texas Hold ‘Em tournaments at Canterbury Downs. I was the quintessential adolescent male. Before you think interning for a law firm at the age of 22 is impressive, let me assure you, it was not. My job consisted of driving to an old warehouse in a mini-van, loading up boxes of old files, sorting through them to enter them into an electronic database and shredding the ones the partners signed off to be shred. Not very glamorous.
The significance of this summer in 2004 is that it was my first desk job. Like anyone sitting down at a desk for the first time, it sucked. So, I sent an email out to a few of my brothers and friends declaring that I’d send a daily email out in order to break up the monotony of the work day. I sent the first email without knowing where it may lead. I never thought it would last nearly seven years. The first few editions were sent out to make readers laugh. Then a writer I enjoy, who greatly impacted black culture in sports in America, passed away; so I provided his post-9/11 article to readers. Somehow, word spread like whatever the opposite of wild fire is and TDB grew. We saw horrible tsunamis, school shootings, floods, earthquakes, wars, deaths and murders. We saw presidential elections, championships, Nobel prizes, births and weddings.
The world moves fast and time goes quickly, so TDB was created to remind us to stop sometimes—to make us laugh, think, and sometimes, cry. Life gets in the way of living and we need to be reminded of that from time to time. That’s what TDB aimed to do. It was created to make us think outside the box. Not everyone thinks the way you do, (or I do); that’s something to be embraced, not shunned. It was created to make us realize, not everything has to have a point, (hence the baffling spelling of the name). In its development over seven years, it became exactly the thing it was intended to destroy—monotony. So, unfortunately, it is time. But I will leave you with this.
Have a routine, but avoid being routine. Life’s too short to not seize the opportunities with which we are presented. Always take the chance to do what you love when it comes along. Question authority. Question those who question authority. We are all intelligent, thoughtful individuals. Don’t let others tell you something has to be that way. It doesn’t. The world is far too complex for it to have to be that way. Share laughter. There’s far too much that’s funny out there to take yourself and others too seriously. Share tears. There’s far too much pain and hurt out there not to take others struggles seriously. Decide what you believe, know who you are and live accordingly. Don’t apologize for that. But if you realize later on that you were wrong, admit it. Ask for forgiveness. Maya Angelou has a great quote: “If I’d known better, I’d done better.” We can only do the best we know how, but there’s no excuse for not striving to attain the know-how. And there’s certainly no excuse for not doing better once we have it.
Finally, be kind. Kindness can change things far beyond our wildest dreams. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it’s kindness that makes the heart grow softer.
Thank you and farewell.
That’s the email I sent out the day that list ended. Some of it might look familiar, no?
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These are partially the same edited tips from 40 Tips On Creative Writing. I may have never finished them had I not kept that email from years ago.
Save your writing! This is only one example of many where I’ve dug up an old piece and used it in the perfect spot later. You never know when you might need that scene, quote, essay, or character description again. Save it.
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