The popular mantra, “kill your darlings”, attributed to Allen Ginsberg (or was it Arthur Quiller-Couch?) instructs writers to cut material they’re proud of if it will improve the readability of their manuscript.
But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used at all.
Whether cut or abandoned, old material still has some worth. A case in point is Pete’s Fish, a short story I first wrote some 20 years ago, and recently discovered it on some old (previously incompatible) floppy disks.
While the search for old stories was not as fruitful as hoped (I suspect some of my early attempts were on a different computer entirely, or typewritten and lost), it was interesting to find Pete’s Fish, and polish it up a bit. The resulting improved edit is an easier read, a little simpler, and will probably be further polished as time goes on…
Far from killing darlings, however, is the flip-side of this. Do you have material that you’ve previously sold that can in some way be reworked? Could you, in short, be able to make money on your writing with minimal effort, thereby maximising the income of a long-forgotten piece of work?
This is something I did recently. Around 10 years ago I was commissioned to write a short 25000 word book on The Beatles, a sort of “why they continue to be relevant” approach. For some reason (which I don’t care to remember) the book fell through, leaving me out of pocket.
Fortunately, I was able to overcome this in 2016, and reworked a section of it (looking at the barmy “Paul is Dead” phenomenon) for an article on MakeUseOf.com. End result: I got paid roughly the same rate for at least a single chapter of the book.
(One day I might even have a go at self-publishing it!)
If your writing career goes back a few years (and I use the word career to describe your life writing, whether you’ve been paid or not), there is a good chance that you have some long-forgotten scraps that are worthy of revisiting, either to polish or glean new inspiration from. Try it today, and see what happens!