Recycling can be a writer’s best friend

If you’re like me, you can’t walk out the door without a story idea, a name, a scene flash, or a snippet of dialogue smacking you in the face. That’s why we walk around with notepads and more pens in our pockets than dollars in our wallet. I have file cabinets filled with ideas, first drafts of stories that may never see the light of day, pages of random scenes, conversations between characters who are as yet strangers to me. I have notebooks and journals filled with plot ideas, speculations, character names, etc. You get the idea. It’s the writer’s boon AND curse. I think of my head as a vast cavern (and my wife will readily agree, haha) filled with bats. Each bat is an idea and they are all flying around, bumping into each other and clamoring for attention. Our job, as writers, is to grab one, tag it and stay focused on it.

However, these “bats”, these ideas and notes should NEVER be discarded. Writer them down, record them and file them away. You never know when it might come in handy. You never know when a piece of that can help, influence or even attach to something you are working on. Our minds often have a way of returning to tread back over familiar trails, even if the grass is now knee-high. When this happens, you’ll inevitably stub your toe on a half buried chunk of lost ideas. It’ll happen and it’ll be perfect for your story and you may even jump up on your chair and yell “Eureka!”

Does anyone yell “Eureka” anymore?

Anywho, this happened to me recently. I was finishing a chapter of a magical realism novel in progress. I came to a point where one of the characters needed to regale a sagacious lore master with a tale hitherto untold. I decided that Leanna (the protagonist) would create a nonsensical poetic ballad, never before heard (since she was making it up off the cuff). Then it struck me, I had done this before. Almost seventeen years ago I had written a nonsensical poetic ballad just for fun and jokes. It was never used for anything and had just been filed away. After an hour of dumping file folders everywhere (I suggest some kind of orderly filing system), I found it: “The Ballad of Billy Von Blue Nose”. I reworked it a bit and put it into the story. It worked like a gem and fit the part perfectly. Just what I was looking for.

So save those ideas and notes and unfinished drafts. You never know when you might get to reanimate them!

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