We roasted a leg of lamb for Easter dinner. It would have been a half-leg of lamb — which is more in line with the number of people in the house these days — but the grocery store didn’t have any half-legs left by the time we did our shopping, so a whole leg of lamb it was. We stabbed it with a knife and put in slivers of garlic, then laid rosemary sprigs on top of it and cooked it at 325F for 25 minutes per pound, and served it up with mint sauce and roasted potatoes and asparagus in hollandaise.
The potatoes and the asparagus are gone, along with the hollandaise, but we’ve still got half the lamb in the refrigerator, and now I’m thinking about leftovers. Lamb sandwiches, probably, and maybe a shepherd’s pie.
It isn’t just cooking that has me thinking about leftovers. Writing jobs have leftovers, too — the paths the story tried to take that turned out to be dead ends; the bits of other as-yet-unwritten stories that cropped up in the current project by mistake; the occasional perfectly good, yes-it-really-happened scene that nevertheless had to be excised from the finished text because it slowed things down at a point when they needed to be moving fast, or because it threw unwanted emphasis on something that needed to be kept in the background, or because the book had a firm word count requirement and was already threatening to run long.
But the dead-end paths and the outcroppings of other narratives can often be reworked into fully realized stories in their own right. In fact, their appearance in a story where they don’t fit can often mean that your subconscious muse is telling you something about what your next project ought to be. As for those snippets that were removed in the service of the greater good — it used to be, there wasn’t much a writer could do with them except put the pages away in a desk drawer with a sigh of regret, but the internet has helped us with that as it has helped us with so many other things. Those snippets can now be posted on a novel’s web page as extra treats for faithful readers, or turned into Kickstarter rewards, or compiled into a self-published chapbook and put up for sale by the author.
So don’t throw out those leftovers, any more than you’d throw out a perfectly good half-eaten leg of lamb.