Let’s face it, few authors are happy when text is edited out. Though they might recognize the need to remove it, and therefore be happy with the overall result, leaving text out feels like some sort of waste — a betrayal even.
“But I spent time writing this!” you’re telling yourself. “How can I let it go?”
In the context of editing, “kill your darlings” is apt advice. It indicates that editing should be approached as objectively as possible. However, what you rarely hear is that text is immortal. You can remove it from a certain post, novel, or essay, but that doesn’t mean the text is lost forever.
Text you had to let go during an editing round still exists and it’s still available to you.
In this post I’ll share with you five ways in which you can reuse text that was edited out. Doing that has two major benefits: Not only do you get to use your text somewhere else, where it’s better-suited, but it also makes the editing process smoother. It’s much easier to let go of text if you know that it’s not really gone.
Never refuse to reuse, as they say!
Use the Text Within the Same Manuscript
Using the cut text in the same manuscript is the most obvious way to recycle text that was cut during editing. Indeed, editors might suggest this action during the editing process. But even if they don’t, you could be proactive and ask. For example, maybe the cut paragraph slowed things down in its original place, but it could be used in the conclusion.
Sometimes, minor editing might be needed before the text can be reused, but it’s relatively rare to hear an editor say, “No, it can’t be salvaged; we have to scrap it.” If your editor has a good reason for taking the text out completely, I’m going to show you some other ways you might recycle your text.
Also keep in mind that there are some differences in how easy it is to move text around, depending on the nature and length of the manuscript. A short blog post will likely have less opportunities for repositioning, whereas a 100,000-word novel is far more flexible. Similarly, a casual post on, say, cat breeds, will be far less demanding than an academic essay.
There is one additional benefit with longer manuscripts: You can use the cut text in a different form. Depending on the length and the nature of the edited-out excerpt, you may be able to use the edited text as a footnote, an endnote, or an appendix.
While writing my academic dissertation, I wrote a lot of parenthetical remarks that seemed very interesting to me but were considered superfluous by my supervisors. In the end, most of them were salvaged because I transformed them into footnotes. As you might have noticed, academic texts love footnotes, so it’s rare to hear anyone complaining about it!
Use the Text in Similar Manuscripts
If you can’t use the cut text in the original manuscript, your first alternative is to use it in a similar manuscript. To borrow my earlier example, if you blog about cats and you had to let go of a paragraph referring to cats stealing things, it will not be long before you have the opportunity to use that excerpt in a new blog post.
But even with more detailed or formal subjects, this kind of recycling is fairly straightforward. Again, some minor editing might be required, but the text can definitely be used in another post, book, or essay.
Some years ago, while writing a novel, I put together a long and elaborate description of a building. As part of the editing process, I decided that it slowed things down and had to go. I wasn’t too thrilled about it, but I knew it was the right choice. However, I saved the excised text as a separate file and, a few years later, it found its place — almost verbatim — in a new novel.
Of course, a certain kind of selection process has to occur. It’s impractical to save literally every word you remove, because it will make it harder to find the text worth reusing. That’s something I’ve learned the hard way, as I’ll explain in the concluding section.
And so, before saving cut text, I recommend contemplating its viability. I also suggest keeping two separate files: one for interesting words and phrases, the other for longer excerpts, such as descriptions. You could also divide the text according to topics, mood, or anything else that suits your own needs. The key is to save the text in a way that makes it discoverable.
Use the Text in Other Kinds of Manuscripts
Using edited-out text within the same field is relatively straightforward and fairly easy to do, whether it’s your cat blog or your fantasy fiction series.
But what about crossovers?
Is it possible to take a scene cut from your novel and use it in an academic essay? How about the reverse: Can you take a section removed from your editorial and insert it into your sci-fi novella? You might think not, but the matter isn’t as clear as it might initially appear.
Let’s say you wrote a guest post for a travel blog. Sadly, that stunning description of the island you visited was left out of the final article. Vivid though it was, it took too much space.
Nothing prevents you from taking that description and using it in your next novel. Or perhaps it can be used in another post, in an entirely different kind of blog. For example, you might use that vivid description in a post on the use of language in conveying emotions.
So far, I haven’t found a way to squeeze my fiction into an academic essay, but I have certainly done the opposite: I have taken portions left out of academic essays and used them in my fiction — the most creatively funny example being when I used the text as something uttered by a character that was a boring professor.
Turn the Text into a Podcast or Video
Let me start with a confession: This is the only point where I can’t offer you a personal example. Making podcasts and videos is something I’m not interested in, perhaps partly because I don’t think I’d be particularly good at it.
But if you write in addition to creating podcasts or videos, using the edited-out material in another format may work well for you.
Once again, some minor editing will obviously be required. Reading text on a screen is far different from listening to it as a podcast. But the key point is that you don’t have to lose the text that was removed during editing.
In a way, it’s precisely the flexibility and casual nature offered by a podcast or video that allows you to use the excised excerpt. Something that is too casual or tangential for a post or essay could be just fine as a parenthetical remark in a video.
Use the Text as the Basis for Something New
The idea to use the cut text as the foundation of something completely new is perhaps less intuitive and more theoretical, but it’s an option worth exploring. It shares some common elements with the earlier section on using the text in different kinds of manuscripts.There is a crucial difference, however.
Whereas earlier I showed you how to use the text itself somewhere else, here I’ll show you how to use the essence of the text — what made it valuable enough to want to preserve.
Begin by asking yourself why you feel sad about losing the text during the editing process. What is it about the text you feel strongly about? Remember what I mentioned about “killing your darlings.” It’s meant to help you identify the emotional reasons behind your liking the text.
Perhaps it’s something you genuinely consider interesting, or maybe it’s something you believe others need to know. Alternatively, maybe it’s something important and personal to you in particular.
If you contemplate your motivation to include the text in the first place — as well as your desire to keep it — you will discover what it is about it that makes it valuable.
This essence can then be used to create something new, with this excerpt as inspiration.
Obviously the details will depend on many things: the length of the text, how strongly you feel about it, the nature of it (as well as the type of the original manuscript), and others. But here are some possible ways to give this excerpt new life as something inspired by but entirely different from that original text:
- Include it in a short story.
- Use it as part of a new post or essay that deals with the essence described above: your motivation to include that particular excerpt.
- Work it into a forum discussion.
- Recycle it as a teaching point.
It’s that last point in particular I’d like to elaborate on, because I found it an especially rewarding experience. Once, an author approached me through Goodreads and asked for a fair review of their novel. I read it and, as I often do, I wrote a long and analytical review. It was fair, however, also partly critical.
The author thanked me for the review but politely asked me not to publish it on Goodreads or Amazon. That was very disappointing. I’d spent time writing that review, and now it would disappear? On the other hand, I wanted to respect the author’s polite request.
And then I realized what I could do.
I anonymized the review by removing the author’s name, the title of the novel, and some small details that could perhaps help someone identify it, then posted the review on my blog with an analysis that used it as a teaching point on how someone should go about writing a review.
It also inspired this post on the etiquette of requesting a review, although the incident — let alone the review itself — is not even included! Sometimes lost text can come back in very peculiar reincarnations.
Removed but Not Lost
I haven’t really counted, but there must be about a hundred files in a folder of my hard drive called “Removed Text.” As you can guess, they are files containing chunks of text removed from my novels, blog posts, and academic texts. Some of them might even be stuff I’d begun writing on forums, then changed my mind.
Some of these files contain just a paragraph, others entire chapters. There is a file that contains an entire academic essay — some 10,000 words — that was never published.
The nature of writing is such that not every single word you write can be used, nor should it be. Producing a meaningful text is not about individual words, paragraphs, or even chapters, but about the organic whole — how the final product reflects your thoughts and what you mean to express.
But these words don’t have to be lost.
As I showed you in this post, there are several ways you can recycle them, using them for new purposes that can be as good — and often better — as what you initially intended. Sometimes they find their place elsewhere in the same work, sometimes in some other work or even format.
Sometimes these cut sections function as inspiration for something entirely new, something which wouldn’t have existed without them. Now, that’s very powerful indeed!