Look at Old Work

An essay exploring why you shouldn't delete your old writing.

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Do you ever look back at some of your old work and wince? Do you shy away from everything you have ever written and then pushed to one side, convinced that it must never see the light of day?

Well, think again. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have work that you don’t like, that was crafted at a time when you weren’t as advanced in your writing skills. It first of all shows you that you’ve developed, that you can recognise where you can get better. Second, it means that you can do something with it.

I’m working on an old story at the moment; a full-length novel that I first crafted about eight or nine years ago, and it’s passable. There are a few sections that aren’t half bad (if I do say so myself), but there are other sections (the majority) that make me want to sit down and seep. When I first stared in horror at the pages before me, I reflected that I was in a different place creatively all those years ago – and had a different sense of pacing and timing. I had showed rather than told more than I care to admit.

There was a part of me that wanted to shut the lid of my laptop and have a cup of cocoa to calm my excitable nerves. But I forced myself to keep going, and I’m glad that I did, because I could reflect on where I needed to get better. I’m by no means perfect now, but I’m better than where I was, and I could bring those improvements to the page.

It’s been intriguing to do, because I wondered if I might be stripping away a lot of extraneous nonsense and be left with a novella instead, or even a short story. How much of my story was actually going to be any good?

But as I went through, a realisation hit – I wasn’t going to be just deleting, I was going to be reforming and rewriting so that it was rebuilt, better than before. The first pass started to do just that, but I needed to then give myself permission to construct it differently if I wanted to; I needed to stop setting myself arbitrary deadlines of when to finish it by, and work on making a concrete final product that I was proud of. As soon as I did that, I was freer to create something better than the original part of the story, and it’s a genuinely enjoyable process as a result.

Don’t be afraid to go back to your older work; you won’t regret it, I assure you.

Thanet-based author Matthew has three novels published by Inspired Quill, is an inveterate blogger, and writing is his passion.

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