• Ellen Cassedy
  • [TIPS OF THE TRADE]: Lessons from an Overcoat: Reuse, Recycle
[TIPS OF THE TRADE]: Lessons from an Overcoat: Reuse, Recycle
Written by
Ellen Cassedy
March 2015
Written by
Ellen Cassedy
March 2015

A Yiddish folksong I love gave me the theme for today’s post. (If you like, you can listen along as you read.)

In the song, a poor guy is face to face with an old overcoat--so old it’s coming apart at the seams. What to do? The man thinks and thinks until he figures out just what to do.  Snip, snip--he cuts up the coat and makes from the pieces a very fine jacket. When the jacket gets old, he turns it into a vest. When the vest falls apart he makes a tie. From the tie comes a button. 

Finally, he has nothing at all. You’d think that would be the end--but no. Out of nothing he makes . . . a song. 

From this musical gem, I’ve learned to look for ways to reuse and recycle the work I’ve already done. A hallowed principle of advertising says that people don’t really start to hear your message until they’ve heard it seven times--or is it twelve, or twenty?   

Writing is not advertising, but the idea still applies. Getting noticed as a writer means being seen, and seen again, in many different places. That means finding ways to meet the requirements of different venues without having to start from scratch with each one. The trick is to make small adjustments, to “stretch” your work in many directions.

Once I’ve published a piece in one venue, I ask myself what other venue(s) might be interested in the same material, either verbatim or in a different form. I’ve used my book--a “quest” memoir about the Holocaust in Lithuania--as the basis of countless articles, essays, speeches, blog posts, and social media posts. 

Here’s how:

1. Be on the lookout for new places to publish a blog post, article, or essay, as well as new speaking venues, conferences, and social media sites. Every couple of months, I visit the websites of authors who write on themes similar to mine to find out where they’re publishing and speaking. I look around on Twitter and Facebook to find places where people are gathering to explore related issues.

2. Query new venues, trying to stick as close as possible to material you already have on hand. For each pitch, use as few words as possible to describe what you could write or speak about. Include a three-line bio, a few short reviews or endorsements, and a link to your website or to samples of your work. (Some venues don’t accept queries and instead require you to send in the completed piece.)  

3. Publish and publish again. Some venues have no problem reprinting a piece that has been published elsewhere. For others, especially online sites, a small amount of rewriting, including a new first paragraph or a new angle, will be enough to make your existing piece welcome in a new place.

4. Turn a book talk into a post, article, or essay--and vice versa. If an overcoat can become a jacket, then a book talk can be transformed into a written piece, or the other way around. You’ll need to adjust your language to make it work on page, screen, or dais.

5. Quote yourself on social media. Pull evocative sentences out of your books or articles and use them as tweets or Facebook posts. It’s a good way for people to get to know you as a writer. Provide links to where they can read more.

6. Move past work around on your website or author newsletter. Re-introduce previous posts, articles, or podcasts.

7. Take notes. A notebook is a writer’s best friend. Notes can be valuable raw material for the next piece of writing. Remember what Nora Ephron’s mother told her:  “Everything is copy.” I take notes when I travel or attend a conference, sometimes even when talking on the phone. 

8. Don’t throw it away. Save the treasures on the cutting-room floor. Discarded scenes, paragraphs, and phrases can be turned to good use in future work.  

The poor tailor in the old folksong might have called it making something out of nothing.


Ellen Cassedy’s book is We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust (Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2012), which won four national awards, including the Grub Street National Book Prize, and was shortlisted for the Saroyan Prize.  It’s now available in audiobook format as well as paperback and e-book.  Ellen’s first post for SheWrites was “Who Cares about Your Family Story? Ten Tips to Ensure Readers Will ...” Her [TIPS OF THE TRADE] series appears monthly.  See all of Ellen's Tips for Writers.


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  • Ellen Cassedy

    JoAnne Graham is thinking of rewriting her first novel.  That's a recycle for sure! 

  • I found your article interesting as I've thought of rewriting my first novel which is out of print.  Those who have read the novel have expressed how much they loved it.  Since it was my first novel I had published, I have thought if rewriting it and republish would be worth it.