Saving Your Best Writing for Lean Times

Autumn is a great time of year for animal watching. Those first few cold mornings seem to set off Nature's alarm clock, sending the furry and feathered of the world into work mode. They gather and munch on the best and last of the year's harvest, knowing without being told that the abundance they've been enjoying is wicking away. They instinctually understand that soon there won't be enough of the good stuff to go around.

I'm wondering if writers should have a similar instinct.

A writer friend of mine posed an interesting question the other day: Do you ever hold back really good lines, metaphors, etc. from your blog posts or social correspondence so you can use them in your stories?

My initial reaction was, "Of course not, I write in the moment! If the words make the long commute from my brain to fingertips, I'm shooting them off like celebratory creative fireworks! My readers deserve only my best, after all." Actually, I wish that had been my response ... 

I really said something like, "I don't think I'd remember it later, so I just use whatever comes to me and hope I think of something equally good the next time." 

Like most writers, I always (ALWAYS) secretly fear there won't be a next time. 

If you've dabbled at the word game long enough you realize that creative juice can have an incredibly short shelf-life. What flows tasty and free tonight can go sour by morning, often with very little provocation or warning. That isn't to say I believe in writer's block. No, I don't think there's some kind of mental barrier that springs up like a wart in our minds, preventing us from writing until it somehow dissolves.

I do think we sometimes don't feel like pushing our brains into that fringe creative area, or maybe even forget how to do it for a time. That's probably what separates hobby writers from daily writers. The hobby writer wanders off until their brain gets hungry enough to come back around; the daily writer puts out some bait and lures the sucker into a trap--forcing it to work. Figuring out what bait to use is often the trick.

Understanding that inspiration can be fickle, is there some merit to holding onto the really good stuff? Saving your best for your most important moments, as it were. It certainly seems so. 

There are probably only so many great similes and metaphors to be had, and it's just a matter of time until someone else comes up with it. Unfortunately, constantly tucking the good stuff away might lead to some really bland blogs. I've been considering some options and they are:

  • Keep a journal or blank Word document handy to scribble down the good stuff when it comes. Lots of writers journal, but most use them for story ideas, not great sentences or thoughts. If you're ever stuck in your writing, break it out and get inspired by your own genius. (You can do this with the good stuff you actually use as well.)

  • Many cell phones have voice recording options, so you can use that as an auditory record. If you don't have a recorder, just call your own voice mail box and leave yourself a message. (WARNING: This may make you appear VERY crazy and/or unstable to friends and loved ones.) 

  • When inspiration hits, we're often so caught up in moving to the next bit that we don't fully utilize or explore what's there. Consider jotting down that great phrase, etc. and then forcing yourself to write two or three more along the same lines. Use one and keep the others for future use. It'll add some time to whatever you're working on, but it might pay off later.

  • When I'm writing blog posts I often write two or three paragraphs that don't get used simply because the idea for the post changes as I go. Instead of tossing them out I plan on saving them (if they're good) for fodder for future posts and the like.

Do you save your best? If so, how do you do it? (Journal, etc.) Is it something you'd consider doing?



  1. If by journal, we mean bits of factoids and ideas scribbled down on paper or in email folders... yes.

    Oddly enough, it is organized!

    Terrific post, EJ!

  2. I had to laugh at this. A couple of times I've started writing responses on people's blogs and had to delete them because I decided I could turn the comment into a full blown blog post. So, yeah, I've cached some stuff to use later. :)

  3. I find when a flash of genius hits me I like to use it until it's dead. Of course I don't use it all in one place. I like to spread it around to different bits of writing.

  4. I used to store up all my ideas, but I've learned since then that the only way to get new ones is to use up the old ones.

  5. I need to star jotting down something or there won't be a third book!

  6. Oh yes...I meant to add, I love the lil' critter.

  7. I have several tablets. One for blog ideas. One for Secondhand SHoes. One for Contessa and Arthur. And, one for An Angel's Sin. Oh and one for misc. ideas. Ope and, one for gratitude or what's bugging me. They're color coded so I know which one is which. Nutty, I know.

  8. Great post, E.J.!

    I'm not really a keeper. I use it as soon as it seems appropriate.

    I've long operated under the theory that we get better with experience. So this year's fantastic idea is next year's mediocre one, since we should in theoretically be in a better position to produce higher quality stuff, more often, if we've been doing it longer.

    That's my story, anyway! ;) Have a great weekend!

  9. Speaking of "journals", I have one file where I actually save the "wrong turns" from my blog. Sometimes, they come in handy.

    My biggest problem with my blog is keeping them short.

  10. I save my best. If I come up with something really good, I want to use it in my writing.

  11. I steal lines from other writers that I read. It's much easier than having to come up with metaphors on your own and virtually untraceable.

  12. I save excess stuff although I rarely use it. But those times when I know there was a line I came up with that would be perfect for what I'm doing now, and I didn't write it down or save it, that's a killer.


  13. I don't hold back on the blog, but I will hold back on blog comments if while answering a question a blogger has posed, an idea hits for a new post! :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  14. Great blog even with the distorted creature at the top. Which reminds me, yes I offer an altered version of myself on my blog and the real me well that will cost you. LOL!

  15. I once heard "write the story you have in you now" so I write according to the characters who are making the most noise in my head :)

    Great post - thanks for sharing. New follower!

  16. I have to write what comes to me as it comes to me ... otherwise, I lose the spark.

  17. I need to start doing that with comments on blog posts, because I'll respond something and realize I'd love to take what I said/thought and turn it into a full blown post.

    I like the idea of jotting down the best phrases and such when they come. I write down story ideas, sometimes snippets that come into my head, but I don't think I've noted anything like what you're talking about.


“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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