For the last three years, the members of my writing group have exchanged recycled Christmas presents. Each gift must be either something we already own that we’re regifting; something we’ve obtained from an op shop (i.e. charity shop); or something we’ve made, mostly from materials we already have at home. Although we started ‘recycled Christmas’ to save money, it’s turned into an amazing time as each person tries to think of just the right thing to bless the others.
This year, I gave framed pictures that included a Bible verse relevant to each person. All of the frames were secondhand, mainly bought from op shops. The collaged pictures were made from old watercolours that hadn’t quite worked on their own, pages from old books or sheet music, and paper and card from my scrapbooking stash. I’ve also recently made a couple of notebooks from recycled paper, and a concertina book from a mixture of new and retro materials.
These arty-crafty projects got me thinking about how we could apply the same principles to our writing. Recycling could help us to gain a wider readership and increase sales. It’s also a great way to get the creative juices flowing, learn some valuable lessons, bless others, or just have fun. I’ve given some suggestions below under the broad headings of recycling, upcycling and repurposing, but don’t get too hung up on the categories as there’s a lot of overlap. The main point is to see whether any of these suggestions could spark some ideas you might like to follow up.
Recycle – Use again or convert waste into reusable material.*
- If you’ve had short pieces published (e.g. short fiction, magazine articles, devotions, or poetry), remember that some magazines and anthologies will accept reprints. Some outlets may even pay you for the privilege, though paying markets do seem to be dwindling. Just be sure to check the guidelines of the new publication to ensure they accept reprints. No editor or publisher wants to print what they think is a new piece, only to find that it’s already appeared elsewhere.
- Unless you’ve signed away exclusive rights of your work, you can always reprint or republish it yourself. For example, Jeanette O’Hagan included some of her previously published short stories, along with new ones, in her anthology Ruhanna’s Flight and Other Stories. Don’t always think in terms of complete books either. I once saw a brochure in a waiting room that included a poem on each of its six sides. What a great way to get your work into the hands of others. You could do the same with short stories, short biographical sketches, an article, or devotions.
- Don’t throw away all of that research you’ve done for your novel or nonfiction book. Use it again for other writing projects. For example, I remember reading about a woman who had to research Victorian fashions for her historical novel. She later wrote an article on how women’s fashions had changed over the years, and sold it to a women’s magazine. What have you researched that might be of interest to others?
Upcycle – Reuse discarded objects or material in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.*
- Most writers have a pile of discarded writing, whether it’s a half-finished novel, scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor, a story that was rejected by a magazine editor, or a poem where you just couldn’t find the right rhyme for ‘bazooka’. If we’re honest, some of those things should probably stay in the bin. However, you’ll also find some gems that just need a little polishing before you send them out into the world.
- If you can’t get the whole piece to work, maybe you could do something with just a segment. For example, you could turn quotes, snippets of poetry, or paragraphs of prose into bookmarks, greeting cards, handmade gift books, fridge magnets, coffee mugs, T-shirts, cross-stitch wall hangings, and roller-derby merchandise. Well maybe not the last one, but there’s really no limit to the kinds of applications you could try.
- Even if you’ve had something published, you could still make it better. For example, one of my published stories had to keep to a strict 1500-word limit for a themed anthology. In hindsight, my idea was too big for that word limit and I didn’t really have enough space to set up my twist properly. I could have done wonders with an extra 500 words, but there’s no reason why I can’t still rewrite it and republish it myself.
- Maybe one of your ideas could be expanded even further into a novella or a book. Raymond Chandler’s best-selling detective novel The Big Sleep drew largely on some of his previously published short stories. He merged some characters to create new ones, expanded the descriptions of people and places, and came up with a more detailed and complicated plot. It was later made into a classic film starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Bigger isn’t always better, but it’s worth experimenting to see if any of your ideas have wings that could let them fly in a bigger universe.
Repurpose – Adapt for use in a different purpose.*
- Rewrite a short story as a skit. This may work especially well for stories with a lot of dialogue.
- Write a play or screenplay based on your novel. This would also work for some types of nonfiction, such as biographies.
- Turn a poem into a devotional.
- Turn a series of blog posts into teaching materials.
- If you’ve given a talk or workshop, you could turn the information into blog posts, articles, or teaching materials.
- If you’ve written something on a social issue, you could use it as the basis for a podcast.
- Incorporate a short piece into a work of art or craft (e.g. painting, collage, handmade book, wall hanging) and give as gifts.
- If you want to re-use something you’ve already had published, just check that you own the rights. If you’re thinking about short pieces (e.g. devotions, poetry, articles, short fiction), copyright usually reverts to the author after it has been published. However, some publishers have an embargo for a certain period of time during which you can’t submit the piece elsewhere (e.g. three months or a year). After that, the rights revert back to you. If you’ve signed away exclusive rights, the publisher holds the copyright and you have to seek permission if you want to reprint it elsewhere. If you’ve had a book traditionally published, check your contract and/or talk to your publisher to see what you’re allowed to do. Of course if you’ve self-published, it’s not a problem.
- As already noted, always check with the editor or publisher before sending them a previously published piece. Not all outlets accept reprints. If you adapted something from a previously published work, it’s also a good idea to be up-front about how much has changed. If you’re submitting work to a competition, be sure to read the guidelines carefully. They usually only accept original works, which also means they’re not expecting you to just revamp a previous piece.
- While there are many benefits of getting further mileage out of your writing, don’t just keep doing variations on a theme. That can be boring for you and the reader. However, with a little thought, it’s not hard to think of some new ways to give life to previous works.
Have you recycled, upcycled or repurposed any of your writing? I’d love to hear your examples. If you haven’t tried it yet, perhaps choose one of the suggestions above and plunge in. You don’t know where those seeds of inspiration will take you.
(* Definitions used in this article are from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/)
Nola Passmore and her husband Tim run a freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish (www.thewriteflourish.com.au). She co-edited the Glimpses of Light anthology with Jeanette O’Hagan in 2015 and has had more than 150 short pieces published, including poetry, devotions, inspirational articles, true stories and short fiction. She is almost finished her debut novel Scattered which will be published by Breath of Fresh Air Press. She co-leads the Toowoomba chapter of Omega Writers and loves driving them nuts with her ideas J