Posted tagged ‘save your content’

“Nose to tail”—saving extra versions and outtakes

March 10, 2015

While some writers are meticulously organized, there’s a stereotype that we’re disorderly pack rats who never throw anything out because “it might be useful someday.” I admit to falling into this category. And I’ll have you know that some things I’ve saved have indeed been useful someday, and I was glad to have kept them for just that use.

This idea extends to words. Pieces I’ve cut out of article drafts—from phrases to whole sections—have come in handy later. The soonest was the very same story, when the editor asked whether I happened to have run across any information on X. I had, but as it didn’t fit the assigned themes, I’d cut it. Luckily, I’d also kept it … just in case. Another time, I simply realized that some research would make a good sidebar. I suggested it to the editor, who agreed, so I wrote it.

Other times, I managed to use research in other stories—or in story pitches. A source for a Scrap article last year went on about ways to recycle electronic goods. I couldn’t use that depth of information in the immediate article but was sure there’d be another opportunity. Recently, another editor requested queries on the theme “green living.” Bingo!

(And then there’s my future files, or ticklers, where I keep bits and pieces that might turn into articles or parts thereof. Every class hears the tale of someone’s Washington Post profile of Heloise, which I tore out and kept in my vegetarian file on the basis of half a sentence buried in the middle. Two years later, I was poking through the file in search of inspiration. The result: a back-page Q&A with the famous hint-meister in Vegetarian Times, one of my favorite clips.)

“Save Your Content!” was the slug on a recent discussion in LinkEds & Writers, the online group I’ve found so useful. This time authors and book editors debated where and how to save their draft deletions. There wasn’t any discussion of whether to save.

Several authors add and delete scenes throughout the writing process, saving the pieces in a file labeled “outtakes” and reviewing it for subsequent books. Some do this in longhand.

Another edits as he goes along to the proper word count—a habit developed as a news reporter—but creates a “save as” copy (Story.1, Story.2, etc.) if an editor asks him to make revisions. He also saves files containing notes, research, edit directions, and so on. “I can always go back to the original file to retrieve copy if I need it, and I’ve always got a backup in case my ‘final’ version is lost for any reason,” he says. (Smart man.)

In a variation on this, another writer saves a baseline copy of every version as a pdf. Then he starts over on the Word file from the beginning. “With this method, I only ever have one Word file in the folder, and it’s always the most current version,” he notes. “I incrementally number the pdfs so I have a retrospective of the development of the story, and I can always recover the last draft if there’s a disaster with the Word file. Periodically I burn everything to a CD for backup.”

So writers save their versions and outtakes in various ways, often with an eye to using them in a future article, book, or query. And then there’s what an assignment editor does with his: “On a slow day when things aren’t coming, I look back through the printed snippets and may pick up an idea for something entirely new. Must write something every day!” Sounds like my tickler file.

Which brings me to the title of this blog entry: nose to tail. It’s the concept of waste not, want not, whether in hunting or general frugality. Use everything, or at least think in terms of everything’s use. It really might be useful someday.

Copyright 2015 Ellen M. Ryan. All rights reserved.