What to do with Bad Ideas, Off-Cuts and Throw-Outs

Waste not, want not. It applies to writing as much as anything else. There may be some little gems hidden in bad ideas. Here’s what to do with them…

I have a ton of plans on my laptop. Plus countless scraps of paper, notes on my phone, jottings in the back of notebooks… all relating to potential ideas for books, poems, films, plays, etc. Some of them, I consistently look at and add to and think: Yes, this is a good idea. But the majority, they’re made on whims. Ideas that I scribbled down quickly before I forgot, only for me to forget why I thought it was a good idea at all. And as such, they may never see the light of day as stories in their own right.

Bad ideas are, in my opinion, anything from which you can’t formulate a direction. Maybe you can’t attach believable characters or a feasible storyline. Perhaps the conflict is not plausible or credible. Or it may just be unoriginal. However, there may be flickers of usable content in those ideas.

So, the thing to do is start up a brand new Word document (or whatever word processing software you use). Use this as your bank for all your jottings. Include all the stuff you’ve noted on your phone, anything you have written on scraps of paper. Keep it all in one place. You never know — you may be working on one of those good ideas and something may call to you from this bank. A gem that you can salvage from the scrap. Whether that’s a character name, a piece of plot, or a line of dialogue.

Off-cuts and throw-outs

As many of you know, the two books in the The Berylford Scandals series took in total 12 years to complete and publish. And as you might expect, in that time, I read and re-read the manuscript countless times. Giving rise to a lot of story content and characters that didn’t make it to the final products.

This wasn’t necessarily because it was all bad, in my opinion. Some of it was, but not all of it. There’s a lot from the Berylford chronology that has been written, and gets alluded to in the two novels. The early political career of Abel Stirkwhistle, for example, and the subsequent mysterious death of a Norwegian nobleman. Or the marriage of Lady Vyrrington’s eldest daughter Venetia. These still exist, they just haven’t been published. And while the Berylford series is on hold for now… one day, who knows? I may find the time to go over those cut chapters and formulate brand-new, full-length stories.

If you run into the same situation, where you’re cutting and culling from your manuscript… if you find anything that you think has potential, but just doesn’t belong in your current story… again, use your bank document. Cut and paste it into there, give it a placeholder title and a couple of lines to remind yourself of the context. One day, it may come in useful.

In short, don’t permanently throw anything away unless it really is just terrible. Keep all your ideas – bad or otherwise – written down in one place, plus anything you throw out or cut from your drafts and manuscripts. You may thank yourself in future and find the right place for them.

Thank you for reading. Do you have a question about my ongoing and future work? If so, get in touch via my Facebook and Instagram pagesAlso read further posts out more about my latest novel, and stay up to date with my podcast.