Use Up Those Leftovers!

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?

Weigh in below—or comment on our Facebook page.


  1. I keep the scenes/paragraphs, too. but now putting them in a file called Outtakes sounds like they’d be not only easier to find, but something I might actually look at again! Thanks for the tip, Connie. And I love how Ivor Tweedy made it into Kate’s books–he’s a grand character!

  2. Marni, I also keep every word. I label the files Cuts, but I like the sound of Outtakes.

    I recently cut almost 20,000 words from the manuscript I’m working on. Then as I continued, I realized I needed some of those words/ideas in other places in the manuscript so I copied them and rewrote them to fit.

    I also wrote a short story using the cuts I made during the many, many rewrites of my first book, A Matter of Blood. It hasn’t been published. But maybe someday.

  3. Coming from IT, I’m a fan of versions 😁. I don’t just have draft version 1, 2, etc. I have half versions and if I cut something in version 6, I know it’s still there, exactly where I left it in version 5.

    1. That’s something I’m still working on, Emilya. I have a hard time NOT revising as I go, so that’s when I came up with the Outtakes file. Before I would just delete and replace. Then sometimes I’d think: “What did I write then?” Now I have Version 1, which is the result of lots of revisions. Then I go on to other numbered versions. I wouldn’t recommend my method, though. Yours is better (or more efficient).

  4. I had a character in an unpublished novel that I really liked and when I wrote The Fiction Class, I just moved him right into it. It was like bringing a friend to a party.

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