Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Leftovers, by Lucy Mills

What do you do with your leftovers?

No, I'm not talking about Christmas leftovers (turkey curry/broth/sandwich anyone?).
What happens to your writing leftovers?

When I've finished a first draft it gets saved as a file under one name, and also saved again under another.

The first usually includes 'first draft' in the file name (what are the odds?!) and the other includes the word 'current' or 'master'.

Then I get to work on the new master copy. Some bits are cut straight away. They might be small things, not much of anything, and I simply delete them (they still exist in the first draft, remember, but nowhere else).

However, often I have sentences and paragraphs I hover over, trying to decide. Once I've made up my mind to get rid of them, I may not just delete them. I might choose to cut and paste them into a whole new document.

Sometimes this document is an assortment of all the bits I've cut out of the master copy. Recently I've begun to do this more thematically - I save a document as a subject, and put the 'leftovers' in files by theme.

At last, I have my master copy all done (it usually goes through a few more drafts, and thus more older versions are created, before the final. I usually include 'final' in the filename. Again, who would have thought it?!).

Here I am with my completed work.

And here are the leftovers. Now, as a non-fiction writer there will be different ways of using leftovers than there might be for a fiction writer - perhaps you fictioneers could suggest a few options for yourselves in the comments!

Potential ways of using leftovers...

I might put them back in.  Sometimes it becomes obvious that they do belong, after all, just in a different place. In fact sometimes I move things out and put them 'on hold' while I sort out the rest of the manuscript - then it becomes clear where they should be. However, if they really can't go back...

They might inspire me to other ideas. They can be triggers for whole other topics and so...

They become part of another project. Yes, they get saved and morph into something else entirely. Another article, even another book.

They help me promote the final piece of work. I can use that eliminated anecdote in a talk I'm giving around the book, for example. I know it's relevant, and it means I have new material I can use. Indeed, they might help me with any talk I'm giving which brushes up against the subject. Plus...

They might become a blog post.  This could be promotional (see above), this could be standalone. They might form part of Facebook posts, a good sentence would become a tweet, a thought for the day.

They might be a personal record of what I was thinking. Like a journal, they can be helpful to look back on and see what new ideas I had, what was growing inside me at that point (note to self - dating the 'leftovers' might be good for this).

They might be thrown away. If after a while I come back to them and find that some of it really is beginning to smell - it's soooo bad - I might just get rid of it. I need a bit of time and distance, sometimes, to distinguish the jewels from the junk.

Sometimes I just need to put them somewhere before I can bear to kill them off, to lose my attachment to them!

How about you? What do you do with your leftovers?


Lucy Mills

Lucy's first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014 (DLT). Undivided Heart: finding meaning and motivation in Christ will be coming in Autumn 2017. Lucy writes articles, poetry and prayers for various publications and is Editorial Co-ordinator at magnet magazine.

Lucy on Twitter: @lucymills
Lucy's Facebook page

More than Writer posts in 2016:


  1. How organised you are, Lucy! I tend to edit as I go along. I wonder what I throw out that I should keep... Sue

  2. I like your idea of organizing them by theme. I always just shove them into a file called 'Cut bits' (who'd a thought). Often I'll go back and mine them, but often they sit there. Emotionally I can't just delete them though - too much work has gone into their creation.

  3. I write fiction, but, like you, Lucy and Amy, I have a file for every piece with a filename finishing dump.docx. In this file, I 'dump' all words, sentences and paragraphs I cut. Quite frequently, they find their way back in, or the idea gets back in but worded differently. I've never thought about using my 'dump' files as a journal - what a clever concept.

  4. I think that, when I am in the mood to make a dash for the tape, I am totally focussed on getting to the final draft and I give no thought to saving cut/changed bits. Makes me wonder what gems I may have discarded; but I don't think I can work any other way.

  5. I have a personality which wants to keep them, carefully labelled, for further possible use. However, I am moving increasingly to throwing them out, since what one has thought once one may be able to think again, or, one might develop a different take on it, plus there isn't infinite space either on my laptop or my bookshelf where I keep files.