Welcome to a special post-Thanksgiving edition of Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing! What makes this week’s NWOW special? It’s the only day of the year I can refer to my writing tips as “giblets of wisdom” without sounding really weird. The same goes for other Thanksgiving-themed writing idioms, such as “stuffing the bird,” “mixing my gravy” and “rinsing the gizzard.”
Ok, you’re right. Those last three still sound weird.
For those of you who may be visiting for the first time (assuming you’re still reading), my weekly NWOW is when I gather the insights gained from 16 years as a newspaper columnist and offer them like the neatly-wrapped innards of a holiday turkey; obviously important enough to include but something no one really wants to think about.
It’s a weekly feature Publisher’s Digest has called “…writing insights you can only gain from years of experience in the field. In this case, it seems to be left field…”
And what The Master of Horror Stephen King® has called “…the place I go to find answers to writing questions I never thought to ask. At least while sober…”
But enough accolades!
In the coming days and weeks (or in some cases, months) we will begin discarding our Thanksgiving leftovers as, one by one, we open containers only to discover what appears to be a carefully sealed Chia pet. It could be that mushroom soup and green bean cassarole, or mashed potatos that simply look like mushroom soup/green bean casserole. Sure, maybe we didn’t like it to begin with? Or maybe it got shoved aside because having pumpkin pie for every meal just sounded better?
Whatever the reason, we didn’t take the time to rotate our leftovers and, as a result, they were overlooked and allowed to spoil.
The same can be said for leftover story ideas. You know, that paragraph or two sitting in the “drafts” folder on your computer? While it may not be growing actual hair (and if it is, stop reading this NOW and take your computer in for service immediately) the longer it sits the more likely it’s going to stink when you finally open it. There are a few reasons to rotate your mental Tupperware of ideas on a regular basis. And not just because I’m hosting a Tupperware party and hope you’ll come. (But, if you happen to be in the area tomorrow night…)
1) Some leftovers are better after they sit for a while: I realize this sounds contrary to what I just said. But when I say “sit for a while,” I don’t mean until it sprouts fingers and writes itself. In the same way lasagna and pizza always seem to taste better the second day, some story ideas get better after marinating a bit and then getting re-heated. Now, before anyone shoves a square of two-month-old lasagna into the microwave while sifting through their drafts folder, everything has an expiration date. Except Twinkies. But leftovers, whether literary or lasgana, need to be routinely checked for freshness so they can either be heated up or tossed out. If you’ve checked it for freshness more than once, chances are it’s time to let it go. (And whoever just started singing that song please stop…)
2) Combining small amounts of leftovers can make a meal: Sometimes we don’t use our leftovers because, let’s face it — just like the 3 ounces of milk someone left in that one-gallon jug, unless your breakfast consists of three Cheerios there isn’t enough to do anything with. The same can go for story leftovers. However, combining smaller portions of story leftovers can sometimes lead to a full meal. What we may have seen as unrelated ideas can dovetail into a complete concept or, at the very least, spark inspiration by getting us to see those ideas from a different perspective. True, mixing that 3 ounces of milk with something like orange juice doesn’t sound that appealing. But then again, has anyone here every had an orange-vanilla pop?
3) Hanging on to leftovers doesn’t mean you have a full fridge: It may be comforting to look into your drafts folder and see it full of literary leftovers. But if those leftovers have gone bad they are just taking up space that could be used for something fresher. While the process of sifting through those leftovers can inspire, recognizing when they have expired can be just as inspirational by freeing up your creative cache for something new. And no, don’t even think about moving those old leftovers to the freezer. They’ll only become frozen and even harder when it comes to letting them go.
Oh, God… there’s that song again.
Please tell me it’s going to expire soon…