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Spring Cleaning: Dusting off your old manuscripts

23 Feb Posted by in Writing Life | 21 comments
Spring Cleaning: Dusting off your old manuscripts

This week I want to encourage you to look at the great, semi-great, good, bad, and just downright ugly, bits of manuscripts that you have written. Personally, I keep mine in a folder on my computer, but I do have a hodgepodge of scrap papers that have some ideas or even complete scenes scrawled all over. Honestly, it’s a mess and the sad part of it is if I don’t take the time to really look over them—I will either, lose the gold among the pile, forget what they once meant to me, or worse throw them away!

Solution: Well, it sounds easy enough…sort through them. Here is the plan for those scraps.

Make four piles for the physical manuscripts and four folders on your computer for the electronic manuscripts:

  1. Awesome, these give me even more ideas (you may have to restrain yourself!)
  2. Good, these need more thought but I like them
  3. Really good, but I will never write this book/story (do you know someone who might? Gift them with the idea, and let it go…perhaps if that idea leads to a book sell they will put you in the acknowledgements.)
  4. Honestly what was I thinking, these are usually awful.

Now that you have your system set up take 5-10 minutes each day either at the end/beginning of your regular writing time and sort as many of your ideas into the various piles/folders. Once you have sorted your manuscript clutter now comes the hard part. Numbers 3 and 4 will take some of you to an emotional place that you may not expect.

Giving away your ideas (#3) and Deleting (#4) may enlighten you on how hard you are holding on to the writing/storytelling gift that the Lord had honored you with.

  •      Can you really let go of an idea that you know you will never use and then sit in the shadows while that same idea goes on to be a bestseller and movie sensation?
  •      Can you let the Spirit lead you on what ideas are useless and just cluttering up your ability to focus on what you need to be writing by putting those documents in the trash and actually deleting them?
  •      Now you can try to fool yourself and hit the delete button… Did you hit the empty trash button on your computer so you can’t go back and retrieve them later? Did you go and actually put the manuscript in the trash and take it to the curb?

I encourage you to take time to pray over your decisions and do your best to follow the Lord’s direction. In the end your writing will be more focused on ideas that generate excitement in your gift.

Happy Dusting,


  1. Shannon Taylor Vannatter02-23-12

    Great advice, Lisa! But I’m not doing it. #3 and #4 – no way. But I have a system, I write all my ideas in a thick journal I call my idea book. I’ll never part with any of it even if it’s horrible or I’ll never write it. And you can’t make me.

    But, I wish I could 🙂 I would certainly be more focused.

    • Lisa Collins02-23-12

      Oh Shannon, You are too funny! Maybe you can publish your book of 3’s and 4’s as writing prompts, then you can make money and “others” can benefit as well. LOL 🙂

  2. Carol King Kennard02-24-12

    Wow, what a concept! I have a couple of idea notebooks (ok, maybe more than that). Then, there are all the ideas stored on my phone, on my computer… I suppose a little more organization might be a good thing.Great ideas, Lisa.

  3. Freeda Baker Nichols02-24-12

    Sounds like a plan! Like Shannon, not sure I’ll follow it. LOL But I do have plenty of story ideas that need to be developed. Right now, I’m proofing the final phase of my first novel, that will be off the press within weeks.I’m glad I “dusted it off” and brought it to its conpletion. Thanks for calling my attention to your post. And look for my book sometime this spring.

  4. Rosie Baldwin02-24-12

    Oh, to be so organized and focused! Compared to you guys that can really do all that, I’m writing a kindergarten book of ‘first words.’ I’m sure all that will work, it’s being grown-up enough to do it.

    You, Lisa, however, are really great! And your ideas, also. I like the look of your site.

    • Lisa Collins02-24-12

      Thanks, Rosie! I have loved every thing of yours that I’ve read.

  5. Bonnie Sterling02-24-12

    Thanks for the great ideas, Lisa! I’ve been putting mine in files on dropbox. I can now access my writing from my phone, computer, library, and pretty much anywhere that I have internet access. It’s been great for me.

  6. Avery Cove02-24-12

    Oh Lisa–love your ideas!
    But like Shannon, I’m unable to hit delete or throw them away. Like a one of the 5 senses, going back and rereading what I’d once written can sometimes create the spark of imagination that I’m searching for–so for me they are keepers. 🙂

    • Lisa Collins02-24-12

      Avery, as long as you are going back and using your old stuff then you should keep it. I find that when I go back to clear out the clutter in my folders I have gems right under my nose that I’ve forgotten about. But the main reason I like to dust things off once a year is that my folders get so full and unorganized that I can’t quickly lay my hands on the most current editions of a manuscript/essay/short story.

  7. Debbie02-24-12

    Throwing away = throwing up. I would have to take Dramamine before attempting such a feat. I do keep an idea box that I cull through every ten years like clockwork, though. 🙂

    • Lisa Collins02-24-12

      Debbie, it sounds like you have a system, and I wouldn’t want to drive you to drugs! As long as you have a system that keeps your pieces easily accessible and you can find what you are looking for–then stick with what you’re doing.

  8. Deborah Wilhelm02-24-12

    Great ideas, Lisa. Implementing them is a challenge for me, too. After I clean up my wreck of an office, I will work on being more disciplined by seriously considering goals and organizing per Avery and you. Things just piled up during illness, surgery, recovery. Now, can you guys come up with some fun stuff, like taking a time out to play jacks? Anybody remember that, or am I the only one old enough?

  9. Tara Johnson02-24-12

    Excellent post, Lisa! I’m like Shannon: it pains my heart to throw anything like that, but I have developed a notebook for sustainable ideas and fragments and a ‘brain dump’ notebook for the, um, not so creative things that come out. 🙂

  10. Tara Johnson02-24-12

    And I suppose, since this is a blog for writers, that I should proofread my comments before posting. LOL!!!

  11. Illene Stewart02-25-12

    I hate the days that everything seems to fall into categories #3 and #4.

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