Old manuscripts are never a waste. Mine them!
For example, those manuscripts you used to learn your craft? You can always pull ideas, characters, settings, etc. from them.
I have a future project that I’m pulling things about the current villain from. I could never get the villain out of my thoughts and recently, when I was trying to brainstorm a new manuscript out he came and fit right in. He’s not exactly the same, but he could be! His attitude, his powers, they niggled at me when I was trying to discover what drove this future villain. I couldn’t determine how to bring his powers into being, what they’d be like and then my gaze fell across this old set of books and bam, I had my idea as to how to work them in.
I’ve also used other characters in new works. It’s so easy to slip them in and the bonus is you’ve worked with them before, so you know their backstory already.
The current project I’m about to sub is like that.
I borrowed characters from other works, cut some that didn’t fit, and dashed ahead. And characters weren’t all I borrowed. I’ve also taken settings from other works. I like to create my world deeply and it’s a shame when stories fall to the wayside, but you have a great world just begging to be used. So, bring it over to another project if it works.
As for ideas, maybe something from a past work will blend with a future project.
I worked on a short story about supernatural hunters for some time during Nano. The short story never went anywhere until I was figuring out what project to start on a year ago and then I pulled it out. I think the short story needed to be longer, to be its own full-length book so when it came time to do MF, I thought: I have just the idea.
Now, of course, it takes time to fit old things into new stories, but it can be done if you’re looking for something in particular.
A few improvements, a new thought or two, and bam, there you have it.
Now, I’m not saying stick with the old dead item if you just can’t get it to work. Sometimes, no matter how good the idea, it just isn’t meant to be. There’s a way you can tell that it’s just a waste of time: it doesn’t “stick” as Stephen King would say. No matter how well you work the notion it just lies there. It’s time to cast that off then. Stick with something that adds to what you’re excited about, that’s the trick. It has to make you want to read it, and thus write it, that’s how you get interested in a story. That’s how you learn what old ideas, characters, etc. can be weaved into a story.
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