5 Ways to Use Your Leftover Words to Dish Up New Writing

With magazines, blogs and TV talk shows hyping new recipes for using the leftovers from the turkey meals so many of us had last week, I thought I’d share how remnants of your writing can be transformed into a fresh dish.

I keep writing scraps everywhere, from electronic files to tiny notebooks and wrinkled sticky notes. When I need new ideas for my personal writing, I’ll rifle through old drafts, seeking that one snippet that can inspire a new blog post or essay. A former co-worker loved to tease me about my “vintage” email, but I frequently used old messages to find new ideas.

It can work with clients, too.

A client loved a sentence we ended up deleting from one campaign. During the kick off meeting for a new demand generation series, she asked if we could build a campaign based on the seven words we’d left on the cutting room floor.

You don’t have to be a syllable hoarder to craft new copy featuring abandoned phrases. Here are five ways leftover words can be your muse.

  1. Events. Sometimes an event can feel like relevant back-story or character development in an early draft but, as the story takes shape, it can become a tangent. Revisit events that didn’t make the final cut. For example, a description of a fight didn’t make the final essay. I reused that scene to build a new piece—and it actually worked well as a stand-alone event.
  2. Characters. Maybe you’ve tried to introduce a secondary character in a novel you’re writing, but he or she never seems to gel with the plot. Use that character to build a story—maybe this guy (or girl) deserves the spotlight.
  3. Descriptions. If you’ve written detailed character or place descriptions, but then trimmed back the text, those leftover descriptions could be the seeds to something new. You could find the basis for a short story, personal essay or other piece of creative prose.
  4. Perspective. A snipped piece of dialogue could be the genesis for a whole new approach, especially if you’re not writing in first person. You could find that a story suddenly clicks because you’re focusing on telling the situation through another character’s perspective. Or maybe exploring that discarded dialogue from another perspective could help you develop a layered piece that connects with readers on a more emotional level.
  5. Update. This can be especially powerful for a blog piece, giving you an opportunity to update your readers on a situation, event, resource or idea. I recently ran Reprise: Ode to FM Sunday Mornings as an update to the original because, one year later, I was able to reconnect with the person who’d inspired the post.

Have you found revisiting old drafts or retired emails has inspired you to write something new? How did you do it? Please share in the comments below.

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3 thoughts on “5 Ways to Use Your Leftover Words to Dish Up New Writing

  1. I’m always rifling thorugh my old attempts at writing stories and scavenging anything worth salvaging. Most of these stories never got anywhere because I didn’t plan them and I didn’t work at finishing them. In amongst all the rubbish and rambling there were some actually half decent characters and plots lurking about just waiting to actually be used respectfully.
    Thanks for the great post and the advice.

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