What can you do with all those literary leftovers?

image 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…

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

38 thoughts on “What can you do with all those literary leftovers?”

  1. Mmmm leftovers. I’d really like to know why pizza tastes so much better the next day as opposed to when it’s hot and fresh. Don’t get me wrong, I love sitting in the fridge overnight and reheated the next day pizza, but it just freaking baffles me.

    As for literary leftovers, hmm. I might have to go back to my drafts. Some of those have been looked at several times and not one of them looks tasty enough to nuke in the microwave and be something worth reading.

  2. I find my writing leftovers also resemble literary fruitcake: full of nuts, spice, booze, and all sorts of ingredients that oughtta work but somehow form something that you can’t even give away.

  3. Your timing is just right. I just “freed” a post from my drafts folder — so liberating! With the exception of subsequent chapters to the same story, I’m afraid the other dozen drafts will be left to spoil in the fridge.. I’ve yet to see one sprout arms and write itself.

    Thanks for the insight and thoughtful post.

  4. I’ve continued to edits blog posts days after they’re published. They’re lean and mean right around day three. Is that the same as letting one marinate?

    The Beatles combined small portions of songs and came up with the medley at the end of Abbey Road. Voilà! a classic is born.

  5. Your NWOW giblets never disappoint, Ned!
    In addition to scaring anyone at the Health Department, your leftovers discussion holds a lot of merit. Just for fun, I looked into my drafts folder and found eight sitting there waiting to be eaten or thrown out.

    As for combining leftovers…well, I’m sure the story titled “If Romeo and Juliet could text” would work nicely with “Let’s get naked”

    Perhaps Hook should take care of those for me 😉

  6. I’m not too sure what he thinks he is going to do with a pasta ladle – maybe a good back scratch? – But I’ve got about 10 old hard drives lying around here that contain literary leftovers to last until Easter.

  7. I recently cleaned out my writing folder, like left-overs in the fridge, I felt a bit bad chucking some of it out, but, it had gone bad! Actually some of my writing had just aways been bad, definitely time for it to go.

  8. Dear oh dear your advise is good but those gems in my fridge maybe masterpieces ; i am reminded here of the advise about the little darlings , those carefully crafted sentences that one may think are the magic ingredient of a particular article , they must go also , you know the ones that we have spent a bit longer over and the ones we seem to think are just brilliant , i always discard these before they have time to get into the fridge so I kill my little darlings and now at some time in the future sooner rather than later my fridge will be emptied polished and the new items will be added , yippee thanks for the reminder to smarten up my blog. Blessings and Kind Regards from Ireland. Happy days to you and your loved ones. Kathy.

  9. Wonderful advice Ned! I will have to go take a look at my “leftovers” but I also have a few I would call “appetizers” because they are the beginnings of something that needs more meat…. make sense? Anyhoo…. no leftovers at my house cuz we wuz in Austin for the weekend partying with Jimmie Vaughn! Really!!
    ps…what song?? LOL! 😀

    1. Nothing wrong with appetizers, Courtney! Especially if there is meat involved.

      And I have to say, Austin is one of my very favorite cities. Sixth Street is the best. I stayed at The Driscol Hotel a couple of times and was there during Christmas one year. It was wonderful. It wasn’t the same without Jimmie Vaughn, though…

      1. We were so darn lucky! We decided to go to The Gallery (above the Continental Club) and listen to some jazz. First off, we parked right in front of the club….then we got upstairs just as they were doing a sound check to start playing and got the only seat left in the room which was RIGHT next to the organ! I could literally reach out and touch it! When they introduced Jimmie I almost fell out of my chair! He was just “sittin in” with Mike Flanigan Trio that night! God was a smilin’ down on us that’s for sure! 🙂

          1. LMAO! Yeah… except it was Mike Flanigan’s organ!! Mr. Vaughn was playing his gi-tar! And did an awesome job. I could watch his hands on the frets all night!! OMG! I’m still amazed he was a mere 5 feet away from me. It was quite an experience!

            1. Oh, I see. Well, I’m sure Mike Flanigan has been telling everyone how Courtney Wright touched his organ… 😉

              And heck yeah, what an experience; fate put you in the right place at the right time.

  10. Maybe I’m weird? OK, hold on there – insults were not invited! I only have 1 literary leftover – my NaNoWriMo draft from a couple years ago & it’s over 30,000 words! I do not think I could pitch this but re-work it, combine it – maybe!

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