Recycle, Reuse, Reduce

It is possible to recycle ideas, reuse stories and research and reduce effort.

It is possible to recycle ideas, reuse stories and research and reduce effort.

You’ve all heard the mantra, “Recycle, Reuse, Reduce” in terms of paper, plastic bags and trash. The mantra also applies to writing. It is possible to recycle ideas, reuse stories and research and reduce effort.

Recycle.

Sometimes, it’s possible to mine one piece of work for another. Recently, I wrote a post about the application of the word “elderly” to Bernie Sanders for my blog about being middle aged. These posts also appear in the Rutland Herald (both in print and on-line) as well as on my website, my Facebook page, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

You can recycle your work for different audiences. photo: Deborah Lee Luskin

You can recycle your work for different audiences. photo: Deborah Lee Luskin

I then reworked the piece for broadcast. While still focused on the definition of elderly, I slanted the piece more towards Vermont, where Bernie Sanders is junior to thirteen other, current US Senate. He’s even the junior senator from Vermont; Sanders is two years younger than Patrick Leahy.

The piece was broadcast on April twenty-first, and is archived in both audio and text formats on the Vermont Public Radio website.

Reuse.

It’s possible to reuse your research and ideas for different formats and different audiences, as long as you’ve retained rights to your work. This is crucial, especially when you’re being paid, as I am.

I’ve been able to reuse research I’ve done for novels to write essays and give lectures. This has been a great way to recoup some of my investment and generate interest in a novel that has not yet sold.

I have also mined this novel and its outtakes for short stories, which have won prizes and publication. Plucking a chapter out of a novel, or condensing a storyline from a larger work into something shorter to suit a particular call for submissions, is a terrific way to reuse your own material. Often, the exercise of condensing a story helps me see how to tighten the original work and make it better.

A magazine article I wrote was then anthologized in a book.

A magazine article I wrote was then anthologized in a book.

Another way to reuse your work is in anthologies. Sometimes, editors of anthologies put out calls for stories on a certain topic and invite writers to submit previously published work for consideration. Other times, editors read something you’ve published and ask permission to include it in an anthology they’re putting together. I’ve had work republished by both these methods. A cover story I once wrote for a magazine was anthologized in a book and also reprinted in a newspaper. Three credits and two paychecks for one piece of work.

Reduce.

Maximize your time, output and income by reducing your effort. This is especially true in regard to research, where you inevitably learn more than you can use for the initial project. When this happens, you can find another way to use the material in a piece with a different slant. No knowledge ever goes to waste.

Compost.

Ideas and drafts can yield rich fertilizer for new work, just as composted vegetable scraps yield rich soil. (pixabay)

Ideas and drafts can yield rich fertilizer for new work, just as composted vegetable scraps yield rich soil. (pixabay)

To Recycle, Reuse and Reduce, I’d add Compost. Just as your compost pile you can turn your vegetable scraps into valuable, rich, soil, so you can turn your outtakes, incomplete drafts, and half-baked ideas into finished prose – with time. I keep running lists of ideas and file drawers of stories I’ve started and abandoned – until the idea turns over in my mind, and I’m ready to take another look, give it another try. Truly, these pieces may not ever be successful stories on their own, but they can and do often fertilize a new idea and help it grow to publication.

While I always welcome your comments and usually reply right away, I’m writing this post in advance of being away and off-line. Look for my replies when I return to my desk in mid-May.

Deborah Lee Luskin, M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin,
M. Shafer, Photo

Deborah Lee Luskin has won awards for her fiction and editorial columns. You can subscribe to her weekly blog at Living in Place.

19 thoughts on “Recycle, Reuse, Reduce

  1. What a great post, I love your ideas here. As a freelance magazine writer myself I know how important it is to be able to spin out stories fast but with different angles and pitches.

    • “Spin” is the key here: same information recast for a different audience. Thanks for your comment.

    • Knowing that everything may eventually be usable alleviates some of the guilt about following interesting leads that may not be exactly to the point of your research. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. I’ve often pulled a short story out of a longer work, or vice versa. Not only is it a great way to recycle and reuse, but it’s also fun going a little bit deeper into the world I’ve created.

    • Yes! I often find that my compressed and/or reworked stories are much better for the “revision”.

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