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Recycling Your Ideas

Have you ever had a wonderful idea for a book but when you got it on paper, things (i.e. the ENTIRE story) just sort of fell flat? The characters weren’t as deep as you’d like, the storyline not as punchy as you intended and as for actual material, well, just imagining writing another seventy thousand words made you break out into a sweat.

If this sounds like you, then stop what you’re doing. This is the part when you don’t force yourself to write all because you though it should be a story. If you do, in a matter of days --if not hours -- you’re going to dread it. Your work will not only become laborious, but the very zeal and gusto you once had for the idea will fall so flat you’ll ponder your sanity for coming up with the idea in the first place.

I’ve done this before, and not five thousand words into it, I wondered if there was hope enough that the story would be something even I would want to read in the end.

So, what’s the solution? Well, don’t instantly think you have to scrap the story all because it’s dead in the water. I’m a firm believer in not wasting anything. Scrap food goes to compost (or the new dog IF she’s lucky and well behaved), clothes are worn until there are real holes in the knees and pill balls on the sweater. Even the shampoo, that lasts longer than the conditioner, is saved for future use.

Instead of tossing the story, rework and recycle your material. What you intended for a novel, might be better used as a short story. A story you think would work great as a personal essay may instead work great as flash fiction. And what about that story you thought might make the best women’s fiction novel, which really needs to be a poem?

If something isn’t working right, don’t think of it as the short, happy life of a story never written. Set the work aside, think about it, and come back to it with fresh eyes later. If you still think you can’t make it the great American novel you wanted, then maybe you need to recycle it.

This has happened to me. What I thought would make a great book, ended up being a two-thousand-word short story. And this was after an outline, character names, and thought-out plot and progression. Finding the right “recycling bin” is sometimes all it takes to make your story the masterpiece it really is, even if that masterpiece is no longer a novel but an eight-line poem.

Try reusing your material for something else and watch your words reignite the spark you saw in your story from the very beginning. Not every story needs to be a book. Not every book needs to be a thriller or romantic comedy. Change things up. Try different genres. Maybe the nonfiction family memoir idea really needs to be a science-fiction short story.

Recycle your ideas -- be willing to change -- and your writing world will reinvent itself into something remarkable.

Happy writing!


  1. I've been doing some recycling lately Heather. It's valuable. I'm always amazed when I re-read some of my former writing that there is a lot of useful insight - but often way too many words. It's great practice and there is always something worth re-using! Great idea! <3

    Bless you!


  2. I agree! I think if I combine all the good parts of the ideas that didn't work, I might have one that does.

  3. A project I'd abandoned many, many years ago resurfaced, and after changing the entire concept, I wrote a new novel. Now it's an official book! There's hope for every idea not pursued.

  4. Donna, thanks! Sorry about the zillion typos. Should've re-read it another ten times before posting.

    JEFritz: Yes, exactly!

    Alex, thanks for stopping by. There IS hope for every idea not pursued. Well said.

  5. Very good advice, although this tends to happen to me - the idea of changing things - in the middle of writing my novel.. arghhh!

  6. Carole, thanks for stopping by. And it happens to me to, which is why I had to share. :) I checked out your blog. Love it!

  7. After abandoning two novel ideas, I found out that they fit together to create one new novel idea. I still have to see where it's going to go...
    I'm interested in the guest posting you mentioned on my blog. Not sure that I'm of the high caliber you would like for your blog, though:0)

  8. Hi Heather,
    I think this is the first time I have popped over that your blog.Thanks for your wonderful advice. I started writing a children's novel in 2006 and then toyed with the manuscript for 2 years and have just put it on the back burner. I just thought it wasnt good enough for publication because the characters seemed a bit loose and had no depth. I'll take your precious advice and go back to the recycling bin to look at it with new, fresh eyes and who knows what will come of it!
    Be blessed,

  9. Cinnette, email me! I would love your expertise. :)

    Cheryl, so glad you stopped by! Thanks for your kind words. Nice to meet a fellow children's author. That's my fav. I'm telling you, sometimes just setting the work on the back burner brings the work back to life later on.

  10. Yes! I wrote a story for a magazine, and when they passed, I recycled it into a picture book. Sometimes, the story is just better suited to a different purpose.


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