This is no. 91 in a series of craft essays exploring the finer points of writing. Check back each week for a new Craft Capsule.
I’ve had a “junk drawer” file on my computer since 2016. That’s not exactly true, though, because that same year I lost my previous collection (RIP), which held more than a hundred pages of ephemera dating back to 2011. That original junk met the electronic trash can when I spilled half a cup of searing hot cafeteria coffee onto my laptop keyboard. In a way, that loss felt appropriate.
This file is where I not-so-delicately place the surplus sentences with promise, quick character sketches that hold some charge, even random observations from my work commute down to the Financial District in New York City. These scraps go in my phone’s Notes app, and when I arrive home, get added to the heap.
In what seems like a critical part of this collecting, I have no expectations for my junk drawer. I do not feel particularly wistful about my slop nor do I go to it often to try to breathe a full life into one of these fragments. But occasionally I’ll recall something in the file and manage, in a way that does contain a feeling of kismet, to make use of it in a quick flourish. The character details, structure ideas, scraps of story in my “drawer” are a bit bent, and often polished on the sentence level in a way that lets me know, like shards of expensive glass, that they belong to something entirely their own. Alternatively, they are indecipherable, totally incoherent, verging on the insane—little plastic splinters of details and half-sentences with slant rhyme.
Still, I like my junk drawer for its background activity, this no-pressure approach to collecting and writing, even if that writing is only the length of a text message. It keeps me observant, if not exactly disciplined about the projects on the front burner. While in more than a decade it has yet to yield anything massively useful, that’s beside the point—and it’s nice to know the drawer is always within reach.
Peter Kispert is the author of the debut story collection I Know You Know Who I Am (Penguin Books, 2020), which was selected as a Best Book of the Year by Elle and a Best LGBTQ Book of the Year by O, the Oprah Magazine. His stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in GQ, Esquire, them, Playboy, and other publications. He is finishing work on his first novel.Thumbnail: Camille Villanueva