Reduce, Recycle, Reuse

One of those pieces of authorial advice I never really agreed with was to save all the deleted scenes and the bits that you started that never went anywhere. Oh, I could see the value for other authors – J. L. Curtis will write a scene that doesn’t fit in the current book, but does in three books down the line, and slot it neatly when he gets to that point in the timeline.

But me, I just wrote and tossed, until my Calmer Half informed me he’d made a command decision that I was to save all the notebooks I filled. And the scraps of files on the computer… it pained him that I’d spend a week writing something, then close the file out when I was done without bothering to save anything.

Granted, he had a point: only after he made this decision did I ever actually finish writing an entire book. But I still looked at this growing pile as an imposition instead of an archive.

Last week, I remembered that I had already done an “identifying common themes” exercise before, and wanted to pull it up from the notebook instead of putting in the time and brain cells to do it again. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which notebook it was in, and so I started with the most recent, and paged through the pile.

I didn’t find it. I would have spent less time just recreating the list from scratch than I spent looking for it. Ah, well. What I did find is that the books I have written and released often drew something, whether a line, or a scene, or a concept, or a character, out of the little scraps and isolated snippets of nothing in particular that I’d written.

I hadn’t consciously done it, but I reuse a lot. The bits and pieces get broken down, and some of each gets braided together like a rag rug. Eventually, research gets used somewhere.

Do you keep an archive of old bits? How do you use it?

20 comments

  1. I just got a new computer set up last night, and it doesn’t have much on it yet. I’m interested in seeing how everyone else does this, too.

    1. Currently, I have a main folder for writing. In that, I have folders by year for snippets and scraps, and folder per finished book.
      As for the books themselves, I don’t do well at a whole huge word document. I use notepad, and it’s one file per chapter. (In A Perfect Day, the published chapter titles are all the internal tracking file titles, so I could tell at a glance where in the story that was, instead of trying to remember if something was A Perfect Day 11 or A Perfect Day 14, it’s A Perfect Day 11 Boxing Clever and A Perfect Day 14 Complimentary Breakfast.)

      By the time books get finished, they’re a large mass of chapter files, beta version feedback documents, cover art versions, etc. So they are isolated in their own folder, and the year folder contains everything else.

      I don’t know how other people do it. Other than my love, who appears to write everything neatly in one big word document, and saves it as a different file with every version change with an incremented version number, as well as scattered saved bits that got cut out. Maybe he’s the one with his mud in a ball, and I’m the outlier?

  2. One of the things I thought was really cool in “The Worthington Saga” was the the main novel there were so sorts of things that were mentioned or referenced, but never gone into in detail, mostly because the details would have boggled down the story.

    However, it had a bunch of those short stories in an appendix at the end, so you could see what actually happened, and not just what people remembered.

    I’ve been doing sort of “Q&A with a character” bits when I’m trying to understand how a character works, and ended up repacking some of them into a newspaper interview format for the short fanfic I did, and stuck that, and a thing that happened out of camera after the end of the novela.

    Ironically, those two have gotten more reads than the main story…

  3. I’m pretty horrible.

    For creative writing, I haven’t moved past notepad. On the new desktop, until recently, I had been okay about getting all the files shut down and saved at the end of the day.

    On the old desktop, I have well over half the notepad files staying open all the time unsaved. Because I had bits and pieces set aside for later, and never sorted into a permanent file and saved. This is still actually an improvement. On previous machines…

    The useable laptops, I at least have stuff saved to folders and shut down. Folder structure? A file naming scheme that lets me figure things out without looking at the file? Not so much.

    1. A cheap NAS is nice for this. You set all your various machines to backup into folders by wireless (or Ethernet, doesn’t matter) and then forget about it. Then when something dies and you panic, you can have a nice “Saved!” moment when the thing is on the NAS.

      Ask me how I know. ~:D

  4. I had an “unusable/noncanon/author venting” file for the Cat books, and occasionally glance back at it as a horrible warning. I do have a Familiars snippets file, for scenes that may or may not ever find a home. And some other urban fantasy scraps here and there (like the start and end of a story based on “Donald McGillivray.” [What if you came home from the war to find another war waiting? Well, you call in some friends with guns and deal with it.])

  5. Filing bits and pieces away (along with stuff I’ve downloaded for research) has never been a problem for me. Now, doing something with them – that’s a different (untold) story…

  6. Since I write on computer, I’ve got a few piles– fiction, which has stuff I’m working on, and inside of that is Old, stuff that I hit a wall and I just don’t even. I should probably sort them into “worlds” at some point…. (Scifi, fantasy, and Not My World.)

    I also have blogging, with folders for what flavor of story, and a “published” section.

    I bounce back to other files when I get stuck. So far it’s working, getting closer to complete stories…..

  7. I have 20 year-old names from lost projects still bouncing around my head. Every once in a while I find a new use for them.

    1. It took me a quarter century to write “Magic of the Lost God.” Part was the original plot bunny was confused and thought it was in ancient times.

  8. I currently have 32 stories in my “Unfinished” folder. My track record has been pretty good so far, it’s not uncommon for me to pick up a story I dropped a year ago and suddenly realize how to finish it.

  9. I never throw anything out. I’ve got stuff from 20+ years ago backed up in case of need.

    My first book honestly took 20 years to write, between one thing and another. It survived a progression of computers starting at Windows 98 all the way up to Win10. I even wrote some of it on an SGI Octane.

    Mostly this is laziness. I hate typing, so I don’t like to type things twice. Easier to dredge it back up from deep backup than do it over again.

    My method is pretty simple, I just keep renaming files as I go along. Save the old one (Fabulous_Book11.doc) then rename it as the next number in order (Fabulous_Book12.doc) and carry on writing, editing, what have you. If there is a major fork or a heavy edit, I’ll start a new letter series (Fabulous_Book_B01). I do end up with the same thing saved many times, but storage is ridiculously cheap now. Besides which I could write for the rest of my life and not fill up a 64 gig thumb drive. Also I keep all the files in more than one place. Multiple PCs and thumb drives, also on DVDs for the really old stuff.

    There’s absolutely no reason not to keep it all, and this method has carried me through a couple of pretty bad computer accidents.

    1. You make me feel better about A Diabolical Bargain taking over a decade.

      That included two periods of years on the backburner while I mastered the form of a novel.

      1. They take as long as they take. Sometimes a year, sometimes two years, sometimes shorter.

        The current WIP is George_and_Effie, started back in roughly May this year. Naming conventions are [George_and_Effie_01.docx] for the first save, latest save is [George_and_Effie_18.docx]. When I’m “finished” the next saves will be [George_and_Effie_edits_01.docx] and etc. I save it every time I change anything during the edit phase.

        I’m at ~137,000 words, finally done with the action and now we’re having a nice fancy-dress party at the Royal York in Toronto. Very posh, ice sculptures and so forth. This time there are not one but -two- dragons in attendance, the usual nanotech one and now a real one as well. ~:D

    2. And aside from doing much the same (and sometimes taking …even longer…) after any significant change I zip up the entire mess and upload it to my hosting, where I have unlimited storage and good backups. I have immediately handy versions back to 1997. Which you wouldn’t think useful, but while upgrading the mess I’ve found running oldest and newest versions through WordPerfect’s “compare document” is a good way to spot bits that still need work.

  10. The older stuff is in a labyrinth of subfolders on my c-drive. Alot of false starts and looney “enter the ninjas” type stuff. A lot of partially filled notebooks as well.

    A family member introduced me to moleskine notebooks. Pricey, but felt right in the hand. I started filling up the new notebooks systematically, numbering the pages and keeping a rough table of contents on the last pages of the notebook. A lot fewer false starts reach digital form now. I just scribble the idea that came to me into the notebook, and if I can’t work out a general plot to go with it, that’s as far as it goes.

    Scrivener serves a similar function once I get to the actual storytelling phase. There might be a bunch of docs floating around representing writing I did on different computers for the same story, but there’s a scriv master file to collect all of the work on that story.

  11. I keep everything. I keep multiple backups. And i really hate it when a computer dies and the one thing I’m looking for is one of the few things I didn’t backup.

    I have a final drafts folder, Current Projects folder. Story Ideas folder. Old Stuff folder . . . Blog Art, Cover Art, Cover Downloads . . .

    And yes, I do on occasion pull something out a decade or two of hibernation (Double Dragon, Demi God, and lots of shorts) polish it up and publish it.

    And I sometimes steal scenes from the unpublishable early stuff.

  12. See… See! 🙂 I told you that stuff would come in handy… 😉 And I’m not the only one that saves the ‘junk’ to a spare file name… LOL

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