For Those About To Write (We Salute You) #8: Cut & Paste

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For Those About To Write (We Salute You) will present a writing exercise to the Ploughshares community every few weeks. We heartily encourage everyone reading to take part! 

photoLast month’s exercise was to come up with different narratives surrounding an inanimate object. Of all the miscellany on display and tucked away and in my teensy San Francisco apartment, I chose to be inspired by a rock. A plain old rock.

I was on my way out the door to the local coffee shop, on a rainy morning a few weeks ago, when I pulled a coat from the closet—heavy and wool, with buttons down the front and an oversized hood, one I hadn’t worn in a while because despite the city’s notoriously fickle weather it had been pretty pleasant for a while. And with my umbrella clutched in my left hand, I reached into my pocket with the right and found a rock. A plain old rock. A perfect mini-monolith about an inch and a half long. It situated itself between my fingers and I ran the pad of my thumb along its smooth edge.

Now, it’s not actually the weirdest thing in the world that I’d find a rock in my pocket. I collect a lot of things; stones happen to be one of them, and this, being such a fine specimen, definitely seemed like one I would be attracted to. But it seemed like a beachy find; how had it ended up along for the ride in my  jacket? It was enough of a mystery to warrant the start of a story, and I’ve been having fun playing around with narratives about it ever since.

And now, onto this month’s exercise.

#7: Cut & Paste

Well friends, we’ve been tackling these exercises for about six months now—halfway through a big year of bold writing. Yeah! We’ve generated a lot of material: filled journals, followed prompts, penned letters, wielded color, cleared our minds, ignored our screens and saw the world, and found untold stories in talismans. Most of that, skimmed off the veeeery top layer of our brains, is pretty raw. Slight. But it’s there. It exists. You can’t edit something until you have something down in the first place, so we are in absolutely great shape here. But brace yourself—we’re about to dive back in to this pool we’ve filled with lots and lots of words.


– Your old notebooks or word docs

– A brave willingness to revisit your work


Gather all the pieces, pages, and docs you’ve filled up in the past six months, and read ‘em. Pay particular attention to all the snippets that give you even the teensiest bit of a thrill when you read them—that “oooh!” moment when you’ve managed to capture something that surprises you in the best possible way. Populate a blank page with all of these, cut and pasted or transcribed by hand, if need be. This may be a super long set, or it could be a few golden sentences.

Once you get everything together, go over that lot. Do any themes stand out? Characters who have made a few unexpected appearances? Play around with these; see if you can connect them in some way. Or allow yourself to take any one of them and manipulate them into an entirely new yarn.

Barrel through the cringe-worthy moments—there are likely to be some cringe-worthy moments—and get jazzed about these idea seedlings representing a brand new beginning.

Time commitment: 

This is less about time, more about effort. See how long it takes to go through all your work, then give yourself at least an hour of unbroken time playing around with the results: mash-up, remix, expand on, edit.

Recommended Reading: 

In the spirit of celebrating your stuff, pull out an old piece that makes you proud. Revisit something you composed—a poem, a single, perfectly realized sentence, a short story, a novel—that reminds you why you absolutely love to write. Remember that, at one time, it too was a scrawled thought or rough concept before you polished it up and made it shine.

As always, if you’re just joining us here, now’s a good time to catch up on the previous posts in the series.

#7: Show & Tell

#6: Stop, Look, and Listen

#5: Take a (Mindful) Break

#4: Go Big

#3: Letters

#2: Prompts

#1: Pencil on Paper