Give Me Your File Drawers and I’ll Give you Cash

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A Gold Mine Awaits in Your File Drawers

Take a good look at the files in your file drawers! You could be rich by mining those drawers.

There are snatches of dialogue, character sketches, interesting anecdotes, tons of research and facts on obscure things. For example, from my research for novels, I can tell you about film stages just as movies were going from silent to talkies; I can tell you about flora and fauna of desserts; record low temperatures on the prairies is a fact that is lodged in my brain; the voice of a first grade child in my home town haunts my dreams.

Use Old Stuff to Write New Stuff

What do you do with all that? As someone said, a writer’s brain is a “cess pool of trivia.” Use that trivia to make some money, some cash, some moola!

Freelance articles

  • List what you know. As you flip through files, list what you know. Look for topics, themes, ideas, time periods, cultures, etc. that fascinate you.
  • Market research. Then try to find magazines or online publications for which you can write an article.
  • Pitch and write freelance articles. Yes, this takes time researching and querying, but it’s an income stream that you could be mining with some regularity. Yes, you want your income to come from your novels, your fiction. But it doesn’t happen overnight and in the meantime, you must eat. Use your file drawers to freelance. Try to streamline your research and writing, so you develop consistent markets and you don’t waste time in searching for new markets.
  • Start now to build a readership! It’s also possible that becoming a nationally known expert on a subject will help you sell your fiction when it’s published–read E.O.Wilson’s story.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:E._O._Wilson_sitting,_October_16,_2007.jpg

    You’ll probably wind up writing for a small number of publication because that’s where your passion lies; building a career in fiction can piggyback on your expertise in an area.

    For example, I met a writer in St. Louis last week who is passionate about dogs: she trains them for various types of competitions and even judges those competitions of obedience, field trials, etc. She could easily turn her passion and expertise into articles as a freelancer; and develop an audience for her novels featuring kids and dogs.

Speeches. If you don’t like freelance writing, FEBDarcySchoolVisitSMALLperhaps you like public speaking, another lucrative freelance career. For this, you would turn your old manuscripts and bits of story into speeches. Often an undeveloped anecdote will not work in a story, but is perfect for a speech. This could be an acceptance speech for the Newbery Award, or just a story you tell kids during a school visit.


Strip it. Oh, yes. Strip out all the “good stuff” from a previous story and ruthlessly use it in your new story. It might be closely observed details, snippets of dialogue, specific and quirky character traits or a way of using language that creates a great voice. You won’t ever revise that old story. Right? Admit it. You won’t. And reusing your own material isn’t plagiarizing. So–go for it. Use it.

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2 Comments
  • Mary Nida Smith
    April 8, 2010

    Thanks Darcy for a very helpful posting. Mary

  • Marisa Birns
    April 8, 2010

    Love this post.

    Am going to look through the drawers right now!

    Thank you.