Saturday, February 11, 2017

Recycling Isn't Just for the Trashman

Recycling isn’t limited to plastics and tin cans. It can play a big part in your writing, too.  Over the years, you’ll gather a lot of information. Too many writers use that information once because many of their teachers drummed the concept of not repeating into their heads. So they use an idea once and forget about it. In the writing biz, that’s not the way to make money.

Information should be a valuable commodity to you as a writer. Whether you write non-fiction or fiction, you can use ideas and the information you gathered to flush them out over and over again. Your files are a gold mine. So if you’re one of those people who can’t stand clutter and throws everything out as soon as you’re done with it, you better think again.

So what are some of the ways you can mine all those ideas and valuable information you have on hand? First, let’s look at the facts—just the facts. If you write non-fiction, you gather a truckload of facts for every article and if you write books, a boatload. That’s a lot of facts to let go to waste. So how do you know where they are when you need them? The answer is a good filing system.

Every article or story you write should have its own folder, both paper and digital. You should put all the notes and clippings and such into the paper folder. Reserve the digital folder for information you find online and for drafts of your piece. The idea of going all digital may be nice, but it isn’t practical. If you don’t have a way of retrieving the information you’ve stored, then you might as well have thrown it out.

For some topics, you may want to create several folders of information, subdividing a more complex topic into categories for easier retrieval. Information you gather for one subject or project may often be used for another on a similar one or a different one altogether. For example, let’s say you’re writing an article about pioneers traveling on the Oregon Trail. First, you’ll gather information about the Trail, itself, then you’ll begin to find information on the people who traveled it.

The information on the former can be used to not only tell the tale of the Oregon Trail when it was at its peak, but also about the remnants of the Trail in the present day. Information gathered about the latter can be used for stories about courage along the trail or articles about particular people or the lifestyle of the early settlers of the West. Right there, you have the material to write any number of stories and articles all based on the same research.

So much for the information you have on hand. But what about all those pieces you’ve already wrote and published? Taking pieces from different articles, for instance, can give you a whole new piece. With some rewriting and revising, you can craft another interesting piece without doing any more research.

And don’t forget about sidebars. Sidebars to one article can become short articles in themselves, especially if you do some quick rewriting to help them stand on their own.

Storing all that information can become a problem. Over your writing career, you’ll gather reference books, clippings, brochures, maps—you name it—and that’s not even considering all the notes you’ve taken on various subjects. But if you organize the material for easy access, you’ll be able to produce a variety of pieces for many different markets during your career.