Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress: The Potential of “Unfinished” Work

Last July, I noted some boosts in my writerly productivity. I discerned several factors in that happy development, including

the extent to which I’ve been taking to heart [advice] from Midge Raymond’s Everyday Writing: Tips and Prompts to Fit Your Regularly Scheduled Life. As part of her counsel on ways to meet our writing goals, Midge advises: “Don’t dismiss unfinished projects.” She explains: “I’ve found many gems in long-abandoned projects….Never abandon old ideas; you never know when they’ll suddenly be relevant. Revisit all your ‘old’ stories, poems, or essays at least once a year.”

And what do you know? Some interesting things have happened since I’ve taken Midge’s advice to heart. First, I stumbled on a call for submissions that instantly reminded me of a quirky piece I’d drafted nearly a year ago but done nothing with since. I dug up that piece, spiffed it up a bit, submitted it, and received an acceptance shortly thereafter.

Then (and with some extra encouragement from one of my writing friends), I returned to my novel manuscript-in-the-drawer and extracted one of the chapters that I’d always believed might hold some standalone potential. I spent some time polishing that piece, and have sent it out as well. (We’ll see what happens there.)

Well, now I can tell you what happened. The piece was accepted–by that first editor to whom I’d sent it. And last week, “Rio, 1940” was published as one of 14 stories in the December 2012 issue of JewishFiction.Net.

I hope that this encourages some of you to revisit some of your own “unfinished” writings. And if you, too, have success stories to share stemming from this practice, please tell us about them!

8 thoughts on “Wednesday’s Work-in-Progress: The Potential of “Unfinished” Work

  1. I love this idea. I have a whole folder of “Great Ideas” which I throw in little scraps of paper and napkins on which I’ve written a “great idea” and never done anything with. When I’m looking for a new piece, I open my folder, grab one that speaks to me, and I’m off and running.

    I think it’s also worthwhile to not give up on projects that hit walls and you think will just die a quiet death. Many years ago, more than I care to remember or share publicly, I had a great idea to write a series of biographies on Texas women for middle school girls, since Texas history is taught in the 7th grade and what girl wants to role-play Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston or Davy Crockett?

    I developed a list of 36 women who would make good candidates and submitted a proposal to UT Press. They loved the idea. And a year later, I signed a contract with them for a three-book series. Fast forward three years or so and I turned in the first two manuscripts. Five months later, I heard two of the readers loved the first book and never mind what they thought about the second book.

    Last month, I renegotiated the contract for a one-book deal, on the book they loved. Monday, I got an email that the Faculty Advisory Committee unanimously approved publication (and also unanimously approved NOT putting in the woman’s recipes, tee-hee). So, just in time for Women’s History Month, I’ll have another book out, my fifth.

    No, dear reader, not Women’s History Month in 2013, but in 2014. See university press, above.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Congratulations on the re-negotiated contract, Debra.

  2. Kelly says:

    Every time I think of an idea, I open a Google document and name it. Some have detailed notes, some just a word or two, some are finished pieces. The problem is: I have close to 2,000 documents! While revisiting old ideas can be good, it would take me many lifetimes to revisit every idea. (I always joke that when I die, my docs should be auctioned off to a freelancer.)

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Kelly, I have to mish-mash lots of things into a single document. Otherwise, I’d have a similar problem!

  3. I write in a journal every day, and I mine those pages regularly for ideas. It’s been a terrific help.

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Good suggestion, Joan.

  4. Well, I once wrote a story about my Valentine’s day wedding (which turned out to be rather unusual ) and sent it out — to no avail. A year of so later, I saw a call for submissions, and I sent it out again (I did have to shorten it). This time the story was accepted, and it was ultimately published in Chicken Soup for the Soul. As they say, “You never know!”

    1. Erika Dreifus says:


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