Leslie Schwartz, a fine novelist I know, once advised a class of writing students, "Be fearless about cutting, even if the sections you cut are some of your best writing. You can always set them aside in files of their own and use them for another project some day."
Then, with a sly smile, she added, "Of course, you'll probably never use them--but telling yourself you might makes the cutting less painful."
I have cut passages. And in the editing of Shock and Awe, at Will's behest I added back a section I had cut before I submitted it. (He noticed something was missing, and he was right).
But, as Leslie suggests, I've never cut anything and then used it in another project. I keep hoping this might happen, but it never seems to come up; my books don't seem to be written so that a passage from one might be dropped into another with only minor adjustments. (Indeed, not even with major adjustments.) I was nosing through my computer folder of fragments the other day, and I still don't see any use for them.
My most interesting fragments are those that were "planned cuts." When I'm trying to get a major viewpoint character on paper, I often write a scene that I have no intention of including in the book--one that in fact would be a distraction from the story. These are usually personal scenes from some other time in the character's life; an interaction that gives me a sense of how the character would behave in a situation that never is touched on in the story.
I tell myself this adds to the submerged-iceberg of what the reader never knows, yet somehow senses. The exercise gives me a weird sort of confidence I have the 'inside story' on the character, that I have some voyeuristic insight denied to others who have not read that extra scene.
When you think about it, my whole theory is a little cracked. I mean, I ought to know more about my characters than anyone else does, because, at least in principle, I invented them. And I shouldn't be able to get any extra knowledge by spying on them in private, as I'm making up those bits, too. Yet an extra, undisclosed scene makes me feel closer to a character than if I published it, makes me feel as if we share a secret bond.
Oh, well. No one ever argued it's sensible to sit alone for hours making up stories about nonexistent people in the first place.
PS. My sister Amber sent me an e-mail informing me that inventing a scene not intended to be presented in the work is one of the techniques of Method Acting.
I'm apparently a Method Writer. Who knew?