As a kid I made plastic models. At first, before I knew better, I threw away the leftover bits and pieces. That was before I learned to keep a parts box…
One of the best lessons of my years making plastic tanks, jets, and other models was that serious modelers keep a parts box, a place where they store those leftover bits and pieces. Why? Because sometimes the extra bits are useful in making other models. If you have extra parts, you can customize kits and experiment with techniques cheaply and safely. Having and using a parts box gives you options and helps you develop your skills.
The lesson of my parts box paid off for me as a college student. When you’re doing psychology research, you need to run statistics, and big stats packages like SPSS and SAS frequently require you to do a little coding to do the big heavy-duty analyses. Some of my fellow students dreaded those big analyses. Not me… I saved my code and re-used it. For a lot of the big analyses the code is fairly similar. So, I could copy a previous use of the same test, modify it, and have the new test ready much faster than if I had tried to code it from scratch.
Over on the fiction side of the house, the concept of the parts box is still helping me.
When we edit, we sometimes struggle with those bits of writing that we love, but know we need to cut. It can be hard because you don’t want to lose those little gems, even though they don’t fit the current story.
Well, with a parts box (in this case a folder on your hard drive/cloud/flash drive) you can save those bits. And, after you’ve saved them you can use them!
Are you looking for inspiration? Need a writing prompt? Climb around in your parts box of fiction pieces you already love (or at least find interesting). Odds are that there will be something in there that works for you.
Are you stuck on a scene? Maybe the solution is already in your parts box. It’s just like back in the old days with plastic models; if I’m stuck I can ask myself “Do I have one of these already?”, and then go look.
The concept dear reader, is to create a place to store those bits that are too good to throw away, but aren’t necessarily useful right now. If you’re in this business long term (and most of us who really write are) they will be helpful eventually, and they’re easy to store (and if you can figure out a good naming and organizing scheme, they can be fairly easy to find!).
I practice what I preach dear reader (or at least I try to…), and a writer’s parts box is helpful. In my first “one and a half pass” through the novel I’m working on I’ve found over a dozen ideas that I should really explore in short stories of their own. Putting them in the “box” means I don’t forget them and I can use them to both expand my world and fill those times where I’m really having trouble finding something to write (it happens…).
It’s not an absolute “have to”, but it’s an idea I encourage you to try. And, I think I’ll go crawl through mine to see if I can find a little help for this next chapter.
If you have questions or experiences with a writer’s “parts box” I’d love to discuss them with you. And… I’ll see you next post.