Get Creative With Your Leftovers

Last night, I found myself wondering if I could reheat my unused words and turn them into a new creative meal. This thought occurred to me while eating cold pizza with my husband, since we have no kitchen at the moment.

stack of booksI still possess bits and pieces of my writing from as far back as elementary school, most of which will never see the light of day. But I don’t consider a single word I’ve ever written a wasted effort. It all adds to the creative reservoir I’ve been filling my entire life: a body of words that gives my current writing depth and texture.

As I pulled a limp piece of basil off my pizza slice before biting into it, I considered the possibility of recycling some of my cast-off creations. Then I remembered a project I undertook a couple of years ago.

In the middle of a period of memoir-ish writing, I compiled a stack of index card prompts. Each contained a word, a phrase or a few sentences I had written. Some touched on topics I’d not yet pursued; some had been edited from essays and poems; and some had been included in completed pieces, but interested me enough to want to pursue them further.

As I recall, I spend time compiling this set of prompts for myself, then never used them. I don’t remember why. Perhaps life intervened with its usual heavy doses of stress, or maybe I got tired of writing such serious stuff and set my sights on an amusing tale about dancing iguanas.

colorful houses like ideas in a row

At any rate, after dinner last night, I pulled out the stack of cards containing my old bits of writing to see what I could make of them. I found a rich trove of possibilities. As I read through them, I realized I could piece the cards together like magnetic poetry. But this game felt more meaningful than the versions you can buy, because each phrase and sentence resonated with me in a way random words can’t. And, though I wrote them all, they felt somewhat new to me, since they’d been sitting in the back of my creative freezer for two years.

I combined a few into another 6-sentence tale:

He’s the tragic hero of one of her short stories, a boy who continues to move quietly through the vine-covered trails in the back of her mind. When she knew him, she kept reaching out for the kind center of his heart and finding nothing there. She rubs at the memory, understanding only now he was not hers to keep.

After years of casting her nets out into the world, she stumbled upon an island of peace. Now love sleeps next to her in bed every evening, pulling her close until she feels its heartbeat on her back even during the darkest moments of moonless nights. A sensual dream wraps its warmth around her heart, feeding her ragged soul.

pile of stones

Now that I’ve rediscovered this stack of leftover words, I’m going to continue adding to it. The new pieces I include will differ from the older ones, because I’ve moved on in my life and in my creativity. This should add greater texture to the “leftovers” I can draw from.

I’d recommend this as a wonderful exercise for other writers: a word pile of ingredients that can be rearranged again and again over the years to create delicious new dishes.

Copyright @ Sandy Ackers, Strangling My Muse: Struggling to Live a Creative Life in a Stressful World,


18 Responses to “Get Creative With Your Leftovers”

  1. 1 DQ July 13, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    Delicious idea!! Thank you, Sandy. I needed this boost today. I find myself composing amazing (cough) prose in my head before falling off to sleep at night but never having the energy or mental resources to recreate it on paper during waking hours. This word pile idea is a great way to capture some of those tidbits without the stress of trying to recreate the full twilight idea.

    Keep musing for us, lady!

    : )

    • 2 stranglingmymuse July 13, 2009 at 11:50 pm

      I’m so glad I could help, DQ. And thanks for letting me know — it means a lot to me to hear it!

  2. 3 marstead July 13, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Great concept, and it echoes the whole writing process. We record bits and pieces of our experience and then rearrange them to make something else… Thanks for sharing.

  3. 4 stranglingmymuse July 14, 2009 at 12:02 am

    It looks like that’s what your entire blog is about, arranging a written patchwork of bits and pieces of experience. I like the way you intertwine fiction and reality as your creative inspiration.
    Thanks for visiting here and commenting.

  4. 5 Tricia July 14, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    I came to you through SheWrites and thought I’d pop in and say hello.

    • 6 stranglingmymuse July 15, 2009 at 12:02 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Tricia. I glanced at your blog and it looks funny! I’m looking forward to reading more of it when I have a moment.

  5. 7 Susan @ 2KoP July 15, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Love this. I wish I had more “old” material to reuse. The only real journaling I’ve ever done is writing down bits and pieces of dialogue — especially things my kids say. It helps me capture their voices at particular ages so when I write characters in my children’s books they sound age-appropriate.

  6. 8 stranglingmymuse July 16, 2009 at 9:30 am

    Writing down your kids’ dialogue is a great idea. But you don’t need old material to use this word pile I discuss. When I first compiled my index cards (with the intention of using them right away), I was collecting cast-offs and interesting phrases that came to me as I was writing. They’re only old now because I didn’t actually follow through on my plan to use them as writing prompts at the time.

  7. 10 stranglingmymuse July 16, 2009 at 6:58 pm

    Thanks for the invite, Mardi, but my husband will attest to the fact that I’m not terribly fascinating in the kitchen (luckily, he IS, so it works for us).

    However, if you’re saying you’d like to re-post “Get Creative With Your Leftovers” on your blog, rather than asking me to write something new and food-related, the answer is yes!


  8. 11 eatlivetravelwrite July 16, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Why sure – just send me the details (text and pics) and I will post it on a set date. Then, on that date, you can tell your readers to head on over to visit my site to see your guest post!

  9. 12 stranglingmymuse July 16, 2009 at 7:13 pm

    That sounds great — I’ll email you later!

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