SAVING THE SHAVINGS: Four Writerly Reasons to Hold On To the Tossed Bits

Framed Shavings

My artistic daughter thought these pencil shavings were so beautiful she wanted me to save them.  We took this picture instead. For months I forgot about them, until I rediscovered them this week while browsing through old photos.

I find these lovely shavings inspiring.  As writers, our job is to whittle away at our stories, sharpening them until they shine.  But sometimes, in our haste to perfect the story or poem at hand, we foolishly toss the shavings. Those shavings, however, often contain precious marrow which, if tossed too quickly, we will later regret. So, before you hit delete or permanently toss old story bits, here are four thoughts to consider.

Oops! It Wasn’t a Shaving After All!  I can’t tell you how many times in the processing of revising, I have deleted a phrase or thought that I later regretted. Thank goodness, I learned early not to permanently delete anything when whittling a piece. Instead I “cut” the phrase or sentence that I think isn’t working and “paste” it in a repository at the end of the document. That way ALL my thoughts are captured and preserved, so if I realize later that something wasn’t a shaving after all, it’s still safe and sound in my shavings collection.

One Story’s Shaving Is Another Story’s Spark.  When working on a new piece, I like to brainstorm and write in my journal. Sometimes this takes up pages and pages. Over the years, I’ve been tempted to toss these old chicken scratchings, but I’m so glad I haven’t. Do you know how many new ideas those old notes have sparked? Shavings and shavings worth! (Bigger than the lovely heap pictured above.) My advice, then, is to find a nice box or shelf to store your old journals and unused writing bits so that one day when you feel uninspired, you can search those old shavings for the marrow of a new story or poem!

Is That a Shaving or is that a Sequel?  If a book does well, your publisher might be interested in a sequel. I keep this hopeful thought in mind when revising.  I tend to be an overwriter – infusing way more plot twists and content than a 32-page picture book can handle.  Over time, I’ve learned to put asterisks or boxes around plot twists or snippets of text that don’t fit the current story but which might be the spark for a sequel.

Save those shavings for posterity (or at least for school visits)! When speaking with students about writing picture books, they LOVE it when I can show them concrete evidence that published pieces go through many, many rounds of whittling before they are ready for print.  Here’s where those awkward early rhymes or plot twists that I wisely shaved off my story come in handy. Students love them! They also enjoy glimpses into early brainstorming notes or lists. Indeed, a thoughtful assortment of  select shavings that illustrate various truths about the writing and revising process will bring school presentations to life!

Happy sharpening all and remember to save the shavings!

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12 thoughts on “SAVING THE SHAVINGS: Four Writerly Reasons to Hold On To the Tossed Bits

  1. Your daughters shavings are lovely! So are your shavings ideas! Copying and pasting once-golden phrases and sections to the end of the document is a great one. I am usually a permanent deleter, trusting that if I ever need something back, I will have liked it so much that it’s committed to memory. Yeah. Mostly it’s not….

    • Yeah, remembering exact wording is not as reliable for me either. Thanks so much for stopping by. Sophie is wagging her tail. I think that means she wants me to say hi to Cupcake for her.

  2. Sometimes those old shavings do appear in new works and I don’t even recognize them at first! There’s a strong thread and theme in one’s work even when we are too close to see it at times. Happy writing!

  3. You hit an important strategic aspect for many novelists, also. Whole chapters, when cut, can serve well in another story, with modifications.
    In olden days, drafts had a physical presence. Thus, even cutting/shavings could be put in a file. In the time of E-drafting, it’s a good idea to save versions because a permanent ‘delete’ is lost to the ether.

    • Oh, yes, the olden days. My writing hovers between the two – that is I write longhand still as well as on the computer. I remember my step-grandfather literally cutting and pasting his typed drafts. Thanks, Mirka.

  4. More timely advice! I now have to revise the short fiction story I told you about last week, whittle away and shave it. Another great analogy!

  5. Great post. I started making copies of documents so I wouldn’t lose those story pieces I cut…and later wished I hadn’t. 😉

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