Category Archives: Re-Use & Recycling

Recycling has come to stand for sorted garbage. I’m more interested in seeing discards as something still useable, perhaps even profitable, for those with a little imagination.

The Bottom Drawer and the Back Burner


Authors frequently refer to things in “the bottom drawer.” It may actually be a box in the closet or a CDR in the back of the box, but it is where we keep our projects that are dead in the water. Maybe we got partway through and something horrifically just like it showed up on the book racks: these evil accidents of fashion happen. Maybe the idea didn’t work out, and we decided not to throw good time after bad, so we walked away from it. Maybe it went around to every possible publisher and just didn’t sell. The problem may not have been in the book, but in publishing fashion. Sometimes we are writing the books of ten years ago, and sometimes the market isn’t ready for what we’re writing and sometimes it’s just the wrong spot in a cycle.

The bottom drawer is a place of cobwebs and dust. The “back burner,” on the other hand, is a place to keep things warm and bubbling. It’s often where we keep ideas that haven’t quite jelled yet, possibly for decades. We may have gotten interested again in the idea from reading our own idea books, and this may be the project to work on after the current one. In the meantime, we collect some research now and then or draw some maps or do some conlang work for an invented world. We may have written nothing on it, or it may be a partial needing more thinking-out.

As a writer, your ideas and words are what you have to sell. It makes good sense both economically and emotionally to leave only incurable juvenalia in your bottom drawer.

Read the rest of this entry

Transcription Errors – Why You Want to Do Your Own Writing Rather than Recycling Someone Else’s


Readers don’t come to us for a collage of what we’ve read elsewhere. It bores them.

Recycled writing includes cliches and stereotypes, including cliched and stereotyped plots. You also need to avoid something between: behaviors or appearances whose description has been exaggerated until it has lost contact with reality. Like photocopying a photocopy, each recycle makes it worse.

Take “turning green” to describe someone nauseated, ready to vomit. Some writers will describe people turning “pea green” with illness.

Have you ever seen anyone turn shamrock color? Of course not! They can’t. Can not.

Probably some nineteenth century writer described chlorosis, chronic anemia, where the skin is so pale that it’s faintly greenish contrasted with healthy skin. Someone recycled this as so pale with temporary illness as to be vaguely greenish. Next copy, the green became notable, and associated with nausea. Finally we end up with people who turn grass-color before running away to vomit.

At no time since the original has anyone checked in with reality, including the editors letting this stuff go by in pot-boiler fiction. This is third-rate writing, except maybe in humor. We assume anyone taking the trouble to stop here wants to be the best writer possible.

Don’t recycle what you’ve read.

Don’t borrow cliche phrases and stereotypical characters, any of that sort of thing. Start with reality, and find your own way to say it. Make the writing your own.

Always use your own physical experience as a touchstone for writing. This means you need to pay attention intently to the world around you.

At some time you or someone you know has been dog-sick. Was there actually any way to tell in advance? Did your internal warning match symptoms from med texts (cribbed by other writers trying to avoid pea-green) or did you fail to salivate, close your eyes, and the rest of that supposed reality? (Questioning authorities is a whole other blog.) Maybe the only authentic warning to an onlooker is an expression of surprise or distress and that hand movement to cover the mouth.

This means a writer needs to pay attention to life and experiences, small as well as showy. Writing gives us the greatest gift this way: our lives, vivid, juicy, and constantly valuable, truly lived rather than sleepwalking through them.

That doesn’t mean you have to commit crimes to write about them: you just have to learn to extrapolate. Y’know — imagine. But do your own imagining. Don’t re-use someone else’s.

Still Writing


But not finished.

I did build a clock for the bathroom this weekend, and cases for three more (need to buy the mechanisms), besides knocking off the Mongolian chapter for People’s Names, Around the World from 3000 BC. Am I narrowing the subject too much?

I also expanded some of my playlists at 8tracks. If you’re looking for music to write by, or walk by, or dance a branle by, you might have a look.

Thank Your Local Scavengers


Somewhere in the latter half of the 20th C. we got out of the habit of recycling. Recycling was positively normal before WW2. It’s just that the poor did it for the better off, or lazier.

Today, we’re expected to do it ourselves. But after two in the morning, through this bar zone come the fellows with their shopping carts, or just carrying a trash bag, the latter maybe on a bike. They look for plastic and glass bottles and aluminum drink cans left on the curb (or my building’s lawns) by drinkers, and smokers on break. They check the outside trash cans. Some brave souls flip open the lids on the dumpster in front of the karaoke joints, and climb in to see what’s been tossed there. There’s three or four that work the trash cans at Waipahu Transit Center, different nights or different times. (In Hawaii, there’s a deposit on beverage containers, to boot.)

This is an ancient task.

Sure, it’s never been a high-class activity, but it was always an honest buck (or shilling). Some working-class Victorians did it as a sideline, just keeping their eyes open on their walk to and from regular work, for scrap paper, rags, bottles, dog’s dropped teeth.

Read the rest of this entry