Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Recycling Your Writing by Kate Thornton

Kate Thornton is a retired US Army officer who enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. With over 100 short stories in print, she teaches a short story class and is currently working on a series of romantic suspense novels. She divides her time between Southern California and Tucson, Arizona. Check out her website here


I finished a Christmas story last week and sent if off to a magazine that has a tracking application online. Of course, I check it daily. Five days in slush and still not read – I may have to volunteer as a slush reader to get it going.

I always write seasonal stories out of season - that way there is really no looming deadline and magazines really like to get their seasonal stuff lined up ahead of time. Writing short stories is not easy - they must be tight, have impact, be satisfying and, well, short.

But the really tough writing project I am working on is a novel I wrote in 1998. Back then, I thought I was a novelist and knocked out 3 or 4 long works - adventure/mysteries - that I thought were really good. Hah! Shows what little I knew! They needed a lot of work. So I shelved them (one was actually agented and had some interest from St. Martin's Press, only back then I didn't know enough about revisions to do the necessary rewrites.) The event that triggered this effort was lunch a while back with an old friend, a dear friend, who asked about that particular book and remembered it fondly. Bless my beta readers!

So I am re-reading it first (I have a copy printed on my old laser printer) then doing a page-by-page rewrite into my computer. I used to have this work on an ancient five-inch floppy disc, but who knows what happened to that and what I could use to extract the info anyway. Also, I think it was in one of the very first iterations of Word Perfect. Yes, I am old!

I once heard you must write a million words before you learn how to put them into the right order. I am sure this old effort was part of my first million, and therefore should just be counted as practice, not the real deal. But I want to salvage the basic story, change the main character to one I have been developing, and update the technology (both in the storyline and what I use to write with.)

Maybe it will be a successful project. If so, I have at least three more "Trunk Novels" that could get the same treatment, if they're worth it.

So, how about you? Do you save your old stuff and use it - or parts of it - later? I like the idea of doing this, but it sure is a lot of work. An author of my acquaintance recommends just ditching it all and writing something new. There is certainly a lot to be said for that approach. But there is also something about an old friend, a character you have created, coming home to the present and being with you again.

So, for now, I want to revisit this person and see if they can get used to the world as it is now. And I think maybe it will help me to accept the world of today as well.

13 comments:

  1. That last paragraph really sparked for me, Kate--I also have a couple of "trunk novels." Even a couple of "trunk screenplays." Last year I actually paid someone to retype one of the novels as a Word doc since it, too, was originally constructed in WordPerfect and saved on one of those little "floppy" discs that are now virtually inaccessible. Even so, it would need almost 100% rewriting, but your observations make me want to give it a try. Thanks.

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  2. I'm recycling an old short story for the Sisters in Crime LA anthology contest, with a few changes to make it match the theme. I hadn't thought about this story in years, and when I reread it, it wasn't bad! So all that work wasn't wasted. Good advice!

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  3. I published four old works last year. (Thirty-year old books to be exact.) Three were spy novels that took place during WWII, Vietnam and the Hollywood communist era. Since the history was still the same, all I did was make sure the plot was tight.

    The last book was the first book I had ever written. I did update it with cell phones and modern technology since the 1970s didn't have all the bells and whistles of today. But in truth, I didn't want my characters tied to modern gadgets. Since much of the action takes place below ground in caves, the cell phones wouldn't work, so I still had the story I wanted.

    That said, I throw nothing away. Some pieces may never see the light of day, but that is because I want to write something else first.

    Another story: when I was in high school I started writing a story for class. We wrote a little every day. I liked the beginning and saved it. I looked at it a few months ago and decided it would be the beginning of a new short story series I wanted to write. It gave me a great character that I didn't know when I was 16, but I know now.

    I guess we all have our methods. That is mine.

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  4. Very timely post for me, Kate. In the midst of a major recycling project, and it's turning into fun. Never know where the past will lead to. Excellent post!

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  5. Thank you all for your astute comments. I now know where the past can lead me: to the future!

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  6. Your post inspired me to dig up an old short, short story I wrote and submitted as a part of a newspaper contest about the Statue of Liberty (an anniversary, I think). A photo/drawing was posted and we were to write a patriotic story about it. I still think mine was better than the one they chose.
    Problem is............... I can't find the darn thing now!

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  7. Oh, Jackie! That's wonderful! Keep looking, and when you find it, well, magazines are waiting!

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  8. Timely post for me as well, going through spring cleaning. Many similarities - do I keep, repurpose, or toss? The last time you wrote about resurrecting old projects, I dug up the 20 year old mystery I abandoned as too challenging to make believable; it had a high-tech theme and I am very low tech. But what was state of the art then is commonplace today, so I'm back in business. Great advice then, and now. Thanks!

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  9. I have effectively recycled most of my short stories several times over. I first enter contests, then anthologies and last, ezines. You can find markets over at Ralen's Extravaganza. Maybe have spelled it wrong, might be Ralan's. As for novels, publishing has never been better. I'm now with Black Opal Books and they do reprints with high royalties. And, there's always self-pubbing in Kindle. It's a great time to get published!

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  10. I have effectively recycled most of my short stories several times over. I first enter contests, then anthologies and last, ezines. You can find markets over at Ralen's Extravaganza. Maybe have spelled it wrong, might be Ralan's. As for novels, publishing has never been better. I'm now with Black Opal Books and they do reprints with high royalties. And, there's always self-pubbing in Kindle. It's a great time to get published!

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  11. Miko, what a wonderful story - yes, everything new will be commonplace eventually. And Sunny, too true. Ralan's is wonderful. And thanks for the tip about Black Opal Books!

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  12. What a timely post, Kate. I'm amazed at the long forgotten stories I have unearthed in my major de-cluttering. I'm encouraged to see some good ideas I had. Now - older and wiser - we can really put a different take on our earlier works. Recycling is great, isn't it? Good piece, Kate.

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