Recycling: Increase your productivity

How green are you? How much do you recycle? How many bins sit at your back door?

In this age of recycling so that we don’t all finish up living on rubbish tips, I bet you’ve become adept at separating your waste paper from your bottles and tins. And of course there’s that wee bin for your food waste.

But what else do you recycle?

Have you thought about those blog posts you write, and the articles you submit to various online and offline publications. How many of those do you recycle by changing a bit here and a bit there? And what about all that research you’ve painstakingly done for your latest article or blockbuster? Once the book is written where does all that information go? Does it nestle cosily in your hard drive for evermore, or maybe it winds up in the salvage you are commendably recycling in order to save the planet? Or do you use it to write articles and blog posts?

And then there is the plot we squeeze out of our brains – more painful than giving birth – to arrange lovingly on the page in the hope that readers will find it interesting enough to buy the book. But is this plot really as original as we think it is? Or is this another example of recycling, whether that be consciously or unconsciously. Particularly when it is often said there are only seven basic plots in existence. Although I find the number of plots thought to exist varies according to who is saying it.

Christopher Booker seems to lead the field in this area. His book The Seven Basic Plots: Why we tell stories details these plots, and if you can believe Wikipedia he apparently worked this out over a prolonged period of 34 years. But, of course, not everyone agrees with this. Foster-Harris, for example states there are three basic patterns of plot, while Ronald B Tobias considers there are twenty, as detailed in his book 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them, published by Writers Digest. And then there’s George Polti who advocates that there are 36 plots which he describes in his book Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. But just to make things easy for you, there is a list of all of these plots on the internet in a post called The “Basic” Plots in Literature.

But all that is getting away from our recycling topic. Should we recycle to increase our productivity? And if we do, how should we do it?

One thing I would say is, that if you do recycle blog posts, articles, or short stories between different blogs, magazines and anthologies, never forget to let the reader know it was previously published elsewhere.

Chris Longmuir


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Mari Biella said…
I do recycle occasionally - mostly blog posts and the like. If no money is changing hands, I don't think that's a problem. There also tends to be a lot of 'residue' left over from the normal business of writing - research, plot elements that never made it to the final draft, deleted scenes, and so on - all of which could potentially form the basis of another story or a blog post. And, of course, if there really are only a certain number of basic plots, then everything we do involves recycling to some degree. I think what makes a writer unique, from my point of view at least, is the way he or she tells a story - his or her voice.
Great post, Chris. I've done quite a bit of recycling down the years and I'm surprised more people don't try it. The Curiosity Cabinet began as a trilogy of plays for BBC radio, but then I rewrote it as a novel, changing the whole contemporary story in the process. My short story, Sardine Burial, was published in a magazine, but I rewrote it as a radio play and then did it differently, as a novel called Orange Blossom Love. My novel Ice Dancing began as a stage play called The Locker Room - it never got a production, sadly - but I liked the central idea and joined it up to something else. Writing a play can be a really good way to explore a particular idea or obsession without committing to something as complicated and demanding as a novel - often that's where it stops, but occasionally you know there's more to be said and thought about. Sometimes an idea just won't leave you alone! By the way - all those guys writing about plots are doing a bit of recycling of their own - Aristotle got there first!
Sandra Horn said…
Umpteen and some years ago, I went to a creative writing course. One of the best things I learned was to take a piece of writing - story, dialogue, poem, whatever, and rewrite it in another form. I began by thinking it was nuts, and was quite irritated by it - but it has proved to be incredibly useful and I have recycled stories as plays, plays as stories, etc. Sometimes the first 'go' wasn't how it would sit best. Sometimes it has just been fun and mind-opening.
Chris Longmuir said…
Great comments, ladies. I don't see anything from the men, maybe they are not so au fait with recycling. I'm off to hide now, before they throw bricks at me.
Dennis Hamley said…
Not true, Chris. Yes, I recycle rubbish and I also recycle old plot s. In my third novel, Landings, published in 1978, the central event from which all else came was a fictionalising of a real and almost traumatic experience when I crashed a glider when I was 15 and in the Air Training Corps. That memory has never left me so I unashedly used it in a Shades for Evans sixty years later. I told the editor who was quite happy about it. Last year I did another Shades, this time for Ransom, recycling the central proposition of anothr prevous novel, Haunted United, a football ghostt story, first,because I liked it and second, because I thought there were implcations in it which I hadn't followed through first time round. Once again, I told the editor, whho was happy about it. And there are lots more things in what I've written which I might resurrect. If it's worth writing once, then it's worth writing twice.
Dennis Hamley said…
Sorry. I meant sixty years after the event, thirty after the book
Chris Longmuir said…
Ah! You've rekindled my faith in men, Dennis.
Fran B said…
Since setting up my author's page on Facebook, I have been drip-feeding all the accumulated writing of nine years of writing groups, competitions, impromptu poems and columns for magazines. There's no money in it, of course, but it's encouraging to get appreciative feedback and a growing band of followers. I'm hoping it will pay off when my next novel is ready for publishing. Time will tell!
glitter noir said…
I seem to try riffs on favorite themes more than actually recycle: a stranger in a strange land being #1. That said, I did recycle a failed nonfiction account of my time in Canada as a stateless person...transforming it into The suiting, my first published book.

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