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Monday, April 26, 2010

Visting the Old Scrap Yard

The fabu-licious Jennifer Walkup made a valid point in her blog regarding recycling. Everyone has that folder on their computer or stack of notebooks filled with failed ideas and prototypes. I think all authors spend their share of time in that scrap yard of old works, digging around for something salvageable. I don’t believe it’s stealing, because honestly, how can you steal from yourself?


It’s more of a validation, proof that the time spent on a discarded manuscript was not in vain, that it had a deeper purpose. Like people who donate organs. The life is gone, but a part of them lives on through someone else. Its mortality extends beyond its original time span and someone else can benefit from that gift.

This is where the BUT comes in…

Don’t let soft-hearted nostalgia motivate your reason to revisit that scrap yard. Don’t horde your old work for the sake of filler for a new piece. Know when to cut your losses and start from scratch. Taking cool phrases, characters, and descriptions are great, but avoid re-initiating FULL storylines. If an idea you come across is too spectacular to ignore, then put a wrecking ball to that bad boy and rebuild the premise from the foundation, up.

Take a few prize gems here and there, learn from that experience then move on, or else become trapped by a thought scheme that has no business in your new project.

That is a sign of laziness, not to mention weakness on the part of the writer, and it will only lead to indecision and heartbreak. It’s the same as going back to a dysfunctional relationship hoping for a better outcome. Life’s too short to run around, trying to patch the old with the new, integrating concepts and habits that you’ve outgrown. Reflection is good, As long as you remember that there was a reason you dumped that shitty boyfriend in the first place.

There’s nothing wrong with looking back at old stories. New ideas can emerge from the ashes and develop in to something great. Sometimes taking that trip down memory lane can be a therapeutic experience, to celebrate how far you’ve come in your writing journey. But, nine times out of ten, you leave thankful that you left some ideas out to pasture.

7 comments:

  1. I really liked this post. It got the wheels turning in my head. I think I need to let go a plot or two in my current manuscript and go with something else. I've been kind of afraid to let go, but if it's broke, then it needs fixin'. :)

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  2. Guess I lucked out. When my WIP flubbed, I found a nicely written partial in the scrap pile. Of course, it needs revising with many passages being consigned to another hole in the draft-fill.

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  3. LOL. For my wip, I stole ideas from my last one. This one is YA romantic suspense. The other one was YA urban fantasy. But my beta readers loved where I got the inspiration for my UF one, so I'm going to revisit the myth I used and some of the characters (another part they loved). The story will be different. Very different.

    Great post!

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  4. Ha! I have stolen a few scenes from my old works for my WIP. Nothing major or involving the main plot but it has been nice to use some of the good in the old, bad stuff - little scenes like a quirky teacher's class, etc. Also I have reused character names, esp. ones I took forever to think up and really liked and then abandoned. Also, sometimes a line will pop in my head and I can't remember if I used it or not. I'll open every file and search for it and figure it out. Yep, me = weird.:)

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  5. Nothing wrong with stealing from old works, just make sure it's relevant to your new story. a lot of people try to create a hybrid of previous projects and it rarely works out.

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  6. Good points. I've got one story I wrote for myself several years back. It's over-written and too soft for today's market. I love it :) But if I ever want to sell it, I'll write it again from scratch.

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  7. I really appreciated this post. I am the Queen of the "first 3 chapters" - if I don't get further than that, I know the idea isn't solid enough to make me *want* to plot. (Likely have a dozen or so first-3-chapter pieces in my desk drawer...)

    ReplyDelete

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