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January 30, 2008

5 Things You Can Do With The Words You Didn't Use

It's nearly the end of January which means this month's theme of 'writing with impact' is drawing to a close.  Once again I'm left with links, ideas, half-written drafts and scribbles of posts that I won't get round to using.  (I know this might be hard to credit, but there is even more unwritten than the stuff I publish here!)

Anyway this got me thinking about what happens to the words, the ideas, the headlines, the paragraphs, the half-written (or half-baked) bits of prose that are always left over - at the end of a post, an article, a newsletter, a speech, a book.  Especially if we're going to deliver on the commitment to writing with less flab and more impact...

So this week's podcast (4 mins 10 secs) looks at 5 things you can do with the words you don't get round to using.

1. Let them go: a reminder to think of the container for our words...and watch we don't cause an overflow.  We need to sift, sort and cut, to prioritise and let things go.  Easier when you know you can...

2. Store them:  in a digital world it's easy to clip and save, to store links, references, sources of inspiration ready to use another time.  If you're worried you'll forget them try the next point which is...

3. Trust: your unconscious mind, writing brain, muse, creative source (whatever you call it).  Trust that it will remind you when the time has come to re-find that word, idea or source material.

4. Say thanks: it's linked to trust.  I try to be grateful for having too much (better than not enough).  Saying thanks is partly thanks for the suggestion, and partly thanks (in advance) for helping me find it again when it's needed

5. Smile:  I read, listen to and smile at my words, my thoughts, my wildest ideas before I let them go.  Some I'll be keeping, some will be gone, but there's a smile of recognition as I cut, as I hear what I was trying to say

Of course the editing process doesn't just leave digital cuttings, there's scraps of paper galore that I need to get rid of too.  We've moved on from the waste paper basket (Singer's 'writer's best friend') to the recycling box - and in some way that I don't yet understand I trust that the words, the ideas, the thoughts, like the paper, will be reused.  Will turn into something else when the time is right and the words are ready.

What do you do with the words you don't use?  Do you have a favourite store - physical, digital, or the store-house of your mind?

You can listen to the podcast by following this link or going to my gcast page. For more audio writing tips, check out the archive of Confident Writing podcasts.

For more on writing and containers try When To Stop Pouring

Joanna Young, The Confident Writing Coach
Because our words count


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Oh, I so enjoyed listening to your podcast, Joanna. That was lovely!
Writing my phd thesis, I have had to come face to face with the issue of having to leave words behind. Sometimes I have submitted a chapter that I had taken time and effort over, only to have my supervisor tell me (in the nicest possible way, of course) that I need to go back to the drawing board. It's demoralising at first, but then, as time goes by, I begin to realise that it was that process of writing down my ideas that led me to develop more sophisticated ideas in later chapters. It's only really at that point that I come to terms with having to cut out those words, and be grateful for the benefits they gave me.

Sometimes we need to let go of our words - especially those we think are golden. :-)

However, storing them can have positive results. When I was trying to sell my first novel, I followed the advice of a number of people (agent, editors, and other writers) who told me to eliminate the prologue, which described the heroine's stroke. The story was a romance that included her overcoming the challenges caused by the stroke.

When I finally found a publisher, the first revision she wanted was a prologue describing the stroke. I pulled out the original prologue that I had deleted from the manuscript and impressed the editor with the speed of my revision.

Amy, that's a great learning point:

"I begin to realise that it was that process of writing down my ideas that led me to develop more sophisticated ideas in later chapters"

But I can appreciate it's kind of hard to swallow as you go along!


Lillie, that's such an apt story :-)

Proving the point of both cutting... and storing for that perfect moment.


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