While you might have another sense of using your leftovers on this beautiful Thanksgiving Day, I'd like to talk about a different kind of leftover: the novels, stories, scripts and poems that you have started and stopped. Let's face it, as much as we try to be wonderful novelists, scriptwriters and poets, we don't always finish what we started. In our drawer or on our hard drive are tons of stories or character ideas that we made a little bit of progress on before giving up and going onto something more important. Just like we do on Thanksgiving, we should make every effort to turn those potentially brilliant, but incomplete ideas into amazing parts of a new meal.
As an exercise, go back through some of your old material. I don't care if it's stuffed in a drawer from 20 years ago or if you wrote it last week in a fit of motivation and it's sitting on your computer desktop. Look through these stories and take some notes. I'd like you to note some of the interesting plots or characters that you made in these tales. What are some of the things you like the most about these stories? Write them down and be as detailed as possible. Why should you be mining your old tales for as many ideas as possible? It's because we as writers tend to want to start from scratch and to ditch our old stories because we thought they sucked when we first wrote them. Perhaps they did suck, but that doesn't mean that every aspect of the stories sucked. We might have created an amazing character or a great plot twist that didn't work at the time, but could work wonders for the story you're creating right now.
If you write as often as you can, there's no question that you start to become more skilled at what you do. If you've been writing for a long time, that means that you've probably gotten better and better. It also means that you have many stories that you might have stopped due to a lack of skill or motivation earlier in your career. The ideas that you had in those stories weren't necessarily bad, they just didn't have the skill and mastery required to bring them to fruition. Perhaps you wrote a novel that you couldn't sell with characters that you truly loved. You don't have to forget about them just because some publishing house was stupid. Take one of those characters and use him or her in your next book. Did you create a story with a plot that was amazing, but you hadn't yet developed the sense of humor to make it less melodramatic? Now that you're funnier, bring that plot back and do it better than ever.
Thanksgiving dinner is so good, we try to repurpose those leftovers over and over again. Using your leftovers in your writing life can be just as good, if not better. Leftover turkey only lasts a few days in the fridge, but using your leftovers in writing is a process that can be done over and over again until you create your masterpiece.
Bryan Cohen is the author of more than 30 books, many of which focus on creative writing and blasting through that pesky writer's block. His books have sold more than 20,000 copies. You can find him on Google+ and Facebook.