What Will Happen to Your Writings After You Die?

I’m so fascinated by this story. Vladimir Nabokov's final, incomplete novel, The Original of Laura, will be published in 2009. It’s been locked away for 30 years by his son, Dmitri, who is going against his father’s wishes and publishing it.

Now, I have to wonder why Nabokov and his wife didn’t just burn anything he didn’t want released. Apparently, this book is as scintillating as his most famous work Lolita. Surely, it can’t be Nabokov’s best work because it’s unfinished. But leaves us an interesting question—would you burn such a treasure or give it to the world?

Moreover, have you expressed your wishes to family members regarding your writings? If something were to happen to you today, what would happen to your unfinished poems and stories, essays, and manuscripts? What happens to all those journals and scraps of paper that you’ve collected over the years? And all of those juicy blog posts—what if they ended up in a collection you had nothing to do with? Not much you can do after you’ve gone, but there’s plenty you can do now.

So what should happen to your great (and not-so-great) works after you die?


~ said…
This reminds me of how Alice Quinn published Elizabeth Bishop's first drafts and reading them I was amazed at how awful they were. Terrible poems that gave me hope and the realization about the importance of revision and its usefulness.

But interesting question...

As for me, I don't think I've reached the point where it would matter what happened to them. And since I'd be dead, I wouldn't care. I think what would happened would be there would be one overly full day of our recycle bin...and honestly, that would a-ok with me.

Oh and my word verification was "poremes" I can clearly see "poems" in that.

What about you? Do you have plans?
Anonymous said…
If someone likes my work enough to want to edit and publish it, because they think it has merit to move people in the world, then by all means, please do so. I trust the person I will eventually leave it to to be the best editorial judge of it.

As for Nabokov's case, is Dmitri really the best judge? or does he just have a cash flow problem? That's always my worry when "something is locked away" for so long then suddenly, in a cruddy economy, it "surfaces." I am always suspicious.

I also think, however, if an artist specifically said "don't" then that means no. Donate the thing to a library but don't publish it.
January said…
I think greed is definitely a motivating factor in publishing the unfinished novel, Melissa. Can't imagine why Dmitri waited so long--30 years?
January said…
Kelli, as to what I would do, that goes back to what happened to my friend Phebus Etienne when she passed away suddenly. (I should have made this a part of my original post.)

Phebus was 41 and single, but without a will. She was not on the best of terms with her family, so her manuscript is in limbo because no one seems to be acting on her behalf.

In my case, my husband has the OK to publish my work, but no journals. I have yet to add this to my will but I do feel the need to make it official. At some point, I'll burn most of my journals. Not sure if I want my kids to read my work, or have my words on display.
Kay said…
There is stuff I have that I wouldn't want anyone to read ... I think I might just burn them myself before too long, just in case. :)
Catherine said…
I know that some writers appoint a literary executor before they die. My drafts are not even first drafts, they are about "minus five". and hand written so I doubt if anyone could decipher them! I can't honestly think they are worth keeping. Anything worthwhile is committed to my computer files. I doubt my family would bother to publish them though.
What used to be kept were vast piles of correspondence, but now that we have e-mails, the art of letter writing seems to be fading. I wish my greataunts had kept my greatgrandmother's letters from cousins around the globe, instead of throwing them out. I doubt if they had literary merit, but I'm sure they would have been fascinating.
Collin Kelley said…
I was approached by the Atlanta Public Library to be the home of my papers and manuscripts, and I agreed. I was quite honored to be asked, so I know they will survive beyond me. That said, I'm not ashamed to admit I've "edited" my old writing, meaning I got rid of it. I don't want anyone releasing material never meant for the public.

Word verification: parying
Dani in NC said…
I agree with Catherine. These days, so much of what we write is in digital form rather than hard copy. Who knows if anyone will be able to retrieve the work after we die? I remember typing up my entire collection of poetry in 1984 and saving it to one of the huge, 8-inch floppy discs. Luckily, I had the good sense to transcribe it to a notebook in black ink when the 5.25-inch floppies came along or else all my poetry would be gone :-).

Now as to what will be done with this work, who knows? I don't think that my children are aware that my writing extends beyond e-mail and blogging. My husband, who is not much of a reader himself, doesn't understand why anyone would want to read what I write. Therefore, I have a feeling that my notebooks will probably go into the trash unread.

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