Revisit the Past


Revisit the Past

It's been a couple of years now since I sat down and wrote the very first lines of the novel I've been working on. Turning back to page one can feel like a bizarre form of time travel; in one flash I'm the younger person who was nervously typing out that early, early paragraph, not yet sure of what this writing project would be or where it might go. If you can believe it, I wrote those first lines on my antique typewriter. Talk about a trip to the past!

Now that I'm re-visiting even the oldest parts of my novel to do a major edit, I feel invigorated to discover that in the time that has passed, my writing ability really has improved. I'm sharper and leaner in my prose style; I'm more readily able to recognize clich├ęs; I'm fast and mean and vivid. Instead of returning to these early pages and feeling hopeless or confused about how to improve them, I know exactly what to do. But that process has taken time; I've had to go away and get better before I could come back.

When is it the right time to return to your old work?

The first thing I must say is that there definitely IS a time when you can go back and improve on what you wrote. I used to think that once writing was out of me, it couldn't be changed; I could see limitations and weaknesses, but all I could do was move on to the next piece and hope to make it better. In fact, you can go back. Your writing is getting better by leaps and bounds all the time; that's why it's absolutely essential to return to older work. The right time can vary widely; but you've got to listen to your gut. When you feel yourself getting curious about those characters you left behind, or when you feel interested again in that world you started to create, then it's time to return and bring the language up to the new standard of language you're capable of producing.

A few reasons that returning to old work is the best thing you can do as a writer:

  1. It's a major self-esteem boost. When you're in the trenches of writing, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture. You can plug away at stories every day and wonder if you're ever actually getting better. If you take a day to look back at your old work, you'll be astonished at how much you've improved. It will give you the jolt you need to remember that writing is a long process of steady improvement.

  2. You won't abandon work with potential to the dusty drawer.There's so much half-baked work out there that could become great if you just gave it the time it needs! Don't consign your older efforts to the archive folder on your computer, or the back of the kitchen drawer. Pull out that story from time to time and see if you can improve it. It might take a major re-write, but isn't a quality story worth the effort?

  3. You can learn from the past.Looking at old work is one of the best ways to learn from your own mistakes. In old work, the sloppy habits or over-used phrases become abundantly clear. You can begin to recognize what the weaknesses of your style are, and can figure out how to improve.

So what are you waiting, for, writers? Take a trip in the old time machine today; revisit an old story and make it sing with your newfound skills.