By now you’ve probably eaten the last of the Thanksgiving turkey. I don’t know about you, but I love turkey—for about four days. Then I’m over it. The problem is waste. I hate to waste food. And since cooking isn’t one of my interests (or skills), if a dish is all prepared and just needs heating up, I will eat it.
You’ve probably guessed, though, that I’m not here to discuss Thanksgiving dinner. By “leftovers,” I’m talking about the words, sentences, paragraphs, and scenes that lie on the proverbial cutting room floor when you’ve finished your last revision.
I hate to waste words, too—especially words I like.
Long ago, when I was writing my master’s thesis on Shakespeare’s comedies, my advisor told me something I’ve never forgotten: “In the process of tightening your argument, there will be sentences and paragraphs that don’t belong in the text. Move them to a footnote. Chances are you’ll cut them all together in the end, but it’s a lot less painful to cut a footnote than a paragraph in the paper.”
He was so right. And I’ve applied that advice to my fiction writing. You’ve heard of “killing your darlings,” the distressing process of cutting words you love. But, thanks to my thesis advisor, I’ve found a way to make that necessary process less traumatic. For every book I write, I set up an Outtakes Files. Moving words to an Outtakes Files is way easier emotionally than deleting them. Who knows (you tell yourself)? You might put them back. Or you might use them in another project. The point is, they’re not actually gone.
Several years ago, just for fun, I wrote a short story about an elderly antiquities dealer in Boston who had an unusual encounter with a customer. That story was never going to make it to print, but it became the basis for Ivor Tweedy, the antiquities dealer in the Kate Hamilton Mystery series. I pulled out that old story and mined it.
Recycling discarded words for me is like rummaging through a treasure chest. All you need is an Outtakes File.
Have you ever recycled words—or a whole story?
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