Here’s the funny thing, this article actually started out as a scrapped piece from a free-writing session. I had never planned to let it see the light of day beyond that quick burst of free-writing to try and jog loose some ideas.
And yet, here it is, a finished piece, nicely cleaned up and presented to you for your reading pleasure and learning.
The lesson in this is, when you edit, don’t delete anything. Slide it to a new location. Whatever you write might have some other value that you can’t predict at the time your write it.
Keep two documents open
Here’s how you do this. Have two documents running. One that’s the piece you’re editing. The other is a file that’s like a junk drawer. This is where you slide all the unwanted parts.
Then, once the piece you’re working on is cleaned up and the fluff is cut out (Stephen King recommends at least 10%) put the piece you’ve been editing away. This is a trick I believe in firmly, letting whatever you’re working on sit for a while so it can become strange to your eyes. You want to read it like you weren’t the one who wrote it.
This is when you switch gears and flip over to the junk drawer. Scoot the pieces around. No heavy lifting, or any serious work. Just try to clean up the mess a bit. This will help when future you comes back to look it over, and rummage for a piece.
Junk today, treasure tomorrow
When you feel short of an idea, a little burned out, or hitting a wall, hop in your junk drawer, read over the scraps and spare parts. See what you can find.
When something you’re working on hits a tough patch and the words don’t come as easily, take a look in the junk drawer. Half the fun of this is finding something that could work, but not easily. Why not easily? Because you want to set yourself up to let the sparks fly. You want to give your ideas breathing room to see what collides, what bounces off each other and, lean in, this is important, what sticks.
You want ideas that stick to each other. And the best kind are the ones you didn’t plan for. Let the work surprise you a bit, see what happens, see what comes of it.
The real benefit of your junk drawer
But, and this may be a bit surprising, the real benefit of the junk drawer is purely psychological. Even if you never open this file again, it serves a purpose. What kind of purpose? It makes it easier for you to cut out the fluff in your other piece.
Remember the fluff? That’s essentially what’s in the junk drawer. It’s the excess, the extra, the pieces you’re willing to cut for the good of the rest of the piece. The drawer just helps you make the decision.
Sure, these parts and pieces can be worked into something fresh, something solid, and maybe even something powerful. But not in the piece they came out of. It has to be something new. They’re basically seeds if anything other than fluff. Opportunities at best, but still very important if they never become anything more.
There you have it. The lesson of all this? When you write, make it easy on yourself to cut out anything that gets in the way.
An easy way to make that happen is to keep an extra document open and ready. Whatever you want to cut, just slide it on over. No mess, no fuss, and no second guessing.
How easy is that?