Sunday, May 20, 2012

Looking at Old Stories

Writers often talk how looking at an old story makes them cringe. I certainly know the feeling. But why is that? It's because I've gotten better since I wrote whatever that was. Is it bothering me to read an old story because I'm painfully aware of a writing tic that I've since overcome? Great. That means I've overcome it in my current writing.

Here's an example I recently noticed. An editor commented earlier this year on my use (or perhaps overuse) of the word "felt." I painstakingly edited a manuscript to correct that tic, and the experience stuck. I'm using the word a lot less frequently now, across the board (there's something about going over a 30K-word manuscript with a fine-toothed comb that will really sink a lesson or two into a person).

But any story I wrote pre-2012 is littered with that word. So I cringe when I see them. In my big edit, I created a new part of my brain devoted to reconstructing sentences that use "felt" unnecessarily. It goes into overdrive when I look at an old manuscript.

Do I wish I could go in and fix those mistakes? Hell, yes. But I can't. The best I can do is appreciate the lesson learned since.

That's not to say I always hate old stories. I see tics like that, but I also get taken back to the emotion I felt while writing those pieces, the things I was concerned about, and the things I learned. For example, "The Artist's Retreat," my piece in Whispers in Darkness, probably uses "felt" too many times. But it was also the piece that made me discover my love of pastiche. Trying to write in H.P. Lovecraft's voice set me free like nothing else had. It was exhilarating, and I grew as a writer as a result.

Anyone who plans to write over a lifetime will have these types of experiences. Any piece is better than something that went before, and lacking the lessons learned in pieces yet to come. Assessing these things honestly is a key to mental health.

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