Oftentimes, as writers, we look back on something we wrote a long time ago, and we find ourselves thinking, “Ohmigosh, when did I ever suck this bad at writing?!” Also amid the phrases that pop up: “Why did I think I could write?” “My parents lied to me.” “I thought that was good???” “Yeesh. I mean, really. Ouch. Yikes.”
Oftentimes it’s associated with some inflated sense of indignation:
At least, that’s what it’s like for me.
When it comes to revising and editing things I wrote back in the day (for example, I’m currently editing the first book I ever wrote when I was between the ages of 15 and 17), it involves swallowing the bitter pill of I-wasn’t-as-wonderful-and-brilliant-as-I-though-I-was.
When that sinking realization sits in, it’s reflexive to want to throw the manuscript off a tall bridge somewhere and watch it sink into a mucky river and float downstream. But before you waste the paper to print stuff off just to sink it, take a second for reflection.
1.) If you can recognize that something you wrote a long time ago is crap, then that means you have improved as a writer since then! Congratulations! Writing is just like any other talent. Playing an instrument, integrating complex differential equations, cooking, singing, synthesizing chemical compounds… everything requires practice and experience. In everything you do, you will improve with time. Part of writing does require an ego, but part of revision requires humility. So don’t give up on a piece just because you wrote it a long time ago. Take the opportunity to grow and learn what you used to do wrong so you can make sure that you fix it in the future.
2.) If you look back at something and realize that you’re head was squarely up your grass skirt, it’s okay to leave some work behind. You’re not abandoning your children, you’re just acknowledging that you can’t always fix past mistakes. You can pick and choose a good metaphor or paragraph here and there, and use incorporate it in your new work! Reuse and recycle! Often, looking back on things we’ve written can revitalize our spirit by reminding us of our own creativity and imagination. Or, if it really was just a bunch of bum, you could always set it on fire in a phoenix metaphor for new growth.
3.) No matter how far you’ve come as a writer or how far back you are trying to edit, you have to be open to the possibility of rewriting, not just editing. This has happened to me several times. Just today, I came across a scene where my main character is trying to escape her two bounty hunters who have captured her. Her friends plan her escape all night. Want to know what they came up with? Running. No stealth, no clever schemes, no using the advantage of surprise. Apparently, my 16-year-old self just wanted to get to the next scene and didn’t really pay any mind to the practicality of the situation. Needless to say, I am in the midst of rewriting the whole scene.
The most important piece of advice, is don’t be too hard on yourself. You’ve come a long way since you wrote it (even in a matter of days and weeks sometimes), and you just need to keep hold of the perseverance that motivated you to write in the first place.
Keep writing, and best of luck!