Sometimes I buy a piece of clothing that doesn't work out the way I'd hoped. I have nothing to wear with it, or I have no place suitable to wear it, or it has an itchy tag, or something. I am slow to discard such things--well, anything, really--so they lurk in the back of my closet, waiting for another chance.
And it thrills me when I find a purpose for them, when they get that second chance. A maxi dress I bought years ago never made my office-clothes rotation, the way I thought it would, but at some point I discovered it made the perfect beach dress. A short-sleeved sweater I couldn't find a use for has jumped into the lineup during this hot summer when I need a light coverup for the cold commuter train.
I have pieces of writing like that, too. A character, a name, a setting, a scene, a first line, sparks my interest, and I try unsuccessfully to make it work in story after story. But it doesn't fit; it's like the beautiful bronze skirt I once bought that paired badly with shirt after shirt. Often those writing fragments lurk in files for years, like the misfit clothing lurking in the closet. And what a joy when they find their proper place, when they lock seamlessly into the jigsaw puzzle of a story.
In hindsight, it seems that piece was always meant for that story. It's one reason I don't consider a failed story to be a wasted effort. The truth is that I may not know what will be useful for years to come.