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Cleaning Out the Freelance Fridge
by Beth Bartlett

Just like our refrigerators, a freelance writer's file cabinets and hard drives fill up with leftovers; queries that didn't work, old contest entries, half-finished manuscripts, and undeveloped ideas. Every now and again, it's worth cleaning out that freelance fridge, peeking into the digital Tupperware and sniffing around for work that can be re-used in a brand new literary dish.

When taking stock of your leftovers, keep these tips in mind:

Check for new markets. The work may have been great, but it just didn't fit the market you picked. Never fear, new markets pop up on a regular basis. Keep an eye on the market news, because the perfect home may appear for an essay you shopped around. These ready-to-go pieces should be put into your Submissions folder, and sent out as soon as possible. In my own fridge cleaning, I found an article I wrote for a writing forum contest last year. I lost the contest, but after reading the article, I realized it was a decent piece of work, and polished it up. Right now, it's on an editor's desk, awaiting the final verdict.

Freshen it up. Occasionally, you will find the rogue idea stuffed into a dark, furry take-out box shoved to the back; timely ideas that have lost their relevance in the passing months (or even years.) I found some notes on a new-fangled service called Napster, and a 20-year-old study on the positive effect of video games on kids. Though both are past their prime, the research was still valid, and the ideas could still be used in a different way, such as an overall look on how music download sites have affected the internet, or if there's a correlation between the increasing advances in video game technology and childhood obesity. Either way, it's worth rinsing off these moldy oldies and slipping them into an Inspiration folder for later brainstorming.

Do some tinkering. When we look at the same query or submission day after day, we no longer see its possibilities; that's why many experts recommend setting a manuscript aside for a while, then going back to read it with fresh eyes. Sometimes, those words have aged like a fine cheese, and you can appreciate your work while seeing exactly how to fix it, or you may want to do some more research and a re-write. Slide it on over to your Works In Progress (WIP) folder so you can keep it handy.

Toss it out. Sadly, not everything in those old folders is worth keeping. If it can't be saved, or it no longer fires you with enthusiasm, it might be time to toss an idea. But before you hit that delete key, consider using it in other ways: turn it into a quick blog post, or upload it to a writing community and get some feedback that could re-light the spark of inspiration. You can even print it out and paste it into a journal, to remind yourself of how far you've come as a writer. If you're a pack rat like me and just can't part with it, create an Archive folder so you can visit the work again at a later date. After all options are exhausted, then go ahead and click it to the curb.

Once you've gone through all those files, step back and enjoy that sparkling, tidy My Documents folder. But be warned, a clean freelance fridge is likely to inspire you; have fun filling it up again!

© Copyright 2008, Beth Bartlett

Beth Bartlett is a freelance writer and self-styled psychic humorist;
visit her writing and poetry side at www.plaidearthworm.com, or
chuckle with her horoscope predictions at www.wisecrackzodiac.com.

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