Recycling by Bronwen Griffiths

 Recycling is on everyone’s tongue these days. The need to mend, recycle and use less of the earth’s resources. It got me thinking about how this links to our writing.
            I am sure we all have drawers full of notes, or old notebooks, or stuff on the computer, or who knows where. Writing we have discarded. Writing that started out with a promise and ended up on the rubbish dump. But even rubbish dumps contain hidden gems – if you know where to look, if you are lucky, if you spend enough time there.
            I’m not suggesting you should spend too much time rooting around the rubbish dump. It’s easy enough to get distracted these days by social media, let alone one’s own scribblings. However, when stuck for an idea or a character, you may find one lurking in an old notebook or computer file. Those scribbled notes and ideas can come in useful when you are stuck, or perhaps when you are feeling negative about your work.
            I now have thirty-four writing notebooks and I now regret throwing a couple away a few years back in a fit of pique. I regret even more the throwing away of my teenage diaries decades ago. Recently I ‘recycled’ a whole novel. The original was rambling and it was written when I had little experience of writing but the characters and the bones of the story has stayed with me – which is why I decided to recycle it for a new project.
            It was necessary to cut a lot out. I know that makes it sound like a rotten potato which only has a few edible parts left but the ‘edible’ parts of my novel were perfectly good. Of course the MS needed editing and restructuring but that old novel became a novella-in-flash and it has long-listed for the Bath Novella-in-Flash Award. (I cannot reveal the title until the short-list and winners are finalised later this week).
            Looking at old work can also be rewarding in that you, the writer, can see how far you have moved in your writing- certainly I hope you will feel that way – because there are always times when we feel insecure about our work, or we lack energy and ideas. Reading your old work can help kick-start your project.
            Another way of recycling work is to physically cut it up into words and phrases. The idea of the ‘cut-up’ begun with the poet Tristan Tzara of the Dada Movement early in the twentieth century. The method later became popular with song lyricists like Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Genesis P. Orridge.  If you are stuck this can be a way of freeing up your work – plus it’s fun too. Writing is hard work. Sometimes we need to be playful.

To Make a Poem
Take a newspaper
Take a pair of scissors
Choose from the paper an article as long as you are planning to make your poem
Cut the article out
Next carefully cut out each of the words that make up the article and put them in a bag
Shake gently
Next take each clipping out one after another in the order in which they left the bag
Copy conscientiously
The poem will look like you
And there you are -- an infinitely original author endowed with a charming sensibility though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.
 Tristan Tzara

Bronwen Griffiths is the author of two novels, A Bird in the House and Here Casts No Shadow, and two collections of flash fiction, Not Here, Not Us – Stories of Syria and Listen with Mother. 
Further details on how to order or to read more of her work, please visit her website.


Umberto Tosi said…
So true. You can call it recycling, or building on the superstructures of stories and characters that one has assembled in these abandoned pieces - their 'bones' often obscured by cobwebs and wilted ornamentation. Once in a while, I get lucky and am able to finish something I start without much struggle, but usually I need to build the bones first, then trim away the filler to reveal what is original. Thank you for a thought provoking post.

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