Sunday, May 23, 2010

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Article first published at Editor Unleashed:

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

I think it’s safe to assume that most writers have to process a certain amount of mental pollution in order to produce their work. Regardless of whether you are a daily commuter to the page or someone who waits for inspiration, there are two basic routes we usually take; rough draft or revision. Both options have the potential for mental traffic-jams.

I have found a little trick to make my writing process more ego-friendly, and thanks to the musician Jack Johnson, my trick comes with a soundtrack. Johnson’s “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” song has become my background music for approaching either a blank page or the need to revise. Here is how it translates:

Rough drafts are the place for words to proliferate, but revisions require reduction. This can be a painful process that is made easier with the understanding that just because a sentence or scene needs to be removed doesn’t mean it gets thrown away. Here is where we insert our song: “Reduce, reuse, recycle.”

Open up a file and name it something like “Potential Brilliance!” and begin filling it with all of the sentences, paragraphs, and scenes that are cluttering your manuscript. Do it for the greater good, knowing that by reducing now, you are giving back to future generations of your writing.


Most writers have reservoirs of material in various stages of completion. In my mind, a story/article/novel is not complete until it is published. Before it reaches that stage, it is a resource to be used. A chapter in a novel can be transformed into material for a short story, a short story can be reduced to flash fiction, and a flash fiction can blossom into the first chapter of a novel. This reduces the terror of facing a blank page.

Anything written exists as potential, a good thought to keep in mind when I am idling before a blank page bullying myself, “Even if you do manage to write something, nothing will come of it. Look at all those other attempts! Failures! What a waste of time … ” Experience has taught me that my first intention might have been to write a short story but that short story was only a vehicle to deliver a publishable flash fiction. All material is waiting for its purpose to be found. Nothing goes to waste.


Recycle, like Reuse, can be helpful for both revision and rough drafts. I believe that a sentence, like most containers, can be used more than once. Even if a sentence has been published, it doesn’t mean it is no longer useful. The content of a sentence has at least several more uses.

Up close, the only hint at his secret is the way his wildfire hair appears to waver and glow more than usual.

This sentence appeared in a chapter of a novel but the descriptions contained in it, such as ‘wildfire hair,’ have gone through several evolutions applied to different writing projects. When I am faced with creating new material, whether it is a story, chapter, essay or blog, part of my anxiety is eased by knowing that if I find myself stalling, the words eluding me, a quick search through my storehouse will often give me exactly what I need. I am given permission to plagiarize myself without apology.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: simple steps to keep your writing atmosphere clean and ego-friendly

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