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This Writing Life: Digging Up Old Projects

10 January, 2014

In my last post, I talked about the projects I’m working on at the moment and what I plan to do with some of them once they’re finished (i.e. self-publish them, in some cases). What I didn’t really go into was how many of those projects are brand new and how many are old ones, started months or even years ago but never finished.

In the past, I’ve always been reluctant to go back to half-finished stories. Generally, the reason I abandon things is because I decide they’re simply not good enough, or because I have the urge to work on something ‘better’. Either way, there’s frequently little reason for me to go back again, to finish what I abandoned; as a result, I have folder upon folder of half-written stories on my computer, and endless notebooks of plot ideas that never made it past a single image.

Recently, though, I’ve had a change of heart. I realised that several of my newer abandoned projects have been left in the dust not just because I had something else to work on – instead, I’d found that my writing skills weren’t up to the challenge I set myself. However, I’ve been writing steadily and consistently since then, striving to improve my craft, and that’s not been in vain. (The completion of Root, my longest and most complex novel to date, was a big stepping stone, and reassured me I haven’t been resting on my laurels all these years.) As a result, those overly-challenging projects now look appealing again, something to sink my teeth into with renewed enthusiasm.

I haven’t been choosing stories without a degree of discrimination, though. I’ve started plenty of pieces that simply aren’t worth finishing. It’s only those that have some kind of spark that have piqued my interest again: worlds I can’t forget, character voices that still speak to me, plots that surprise me when I re-read them. Re-reading half-finished work is fascinating, in more ways than one. I can see both ideas that still intrigue me and scenes I’d write differently now, with a few more  years of practice under my belt.

So where has all my digging left me? I’m currently revising and expanding a novella I wrote over a year ago; after that, I want to revise a YA novel I wrote even longer ago – both have self-publishing potential, I hope. I’m even looking at novels I abandoned halfway through. (The novel I started with no less than 6 POV characters is, I now realise, more complicated than it needs to be, but I can see so much potential in the world I created that I’m not ready to let it go just yet.)

Looking back at old work can be embarrassing, or depressing (the amount of time I’ve spent on abandoned stories certainly is), but sometimes you stumble across hidden gems. It’s incredibly heartening to discover a story written years before, that still stands up to scrutiny – but that could be even better with the aid of your new-found skills. And realising that you really have improved, even though your writing sometimes feels like an endless slog? That’s even better.

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2 Comments
  1. 10 January, 2014 1:44 pm

    I’ve done the same thing. Rereading work that I abandoned for some reason or other and thinking, “Wow, this is good, I need to finish it because I want to know what happens next.” Reading something I wrote months or years before is like reading someone else’s work and that helps me to see if it’s good enough to finish or not.

    • 10 January, 2014 4:23 pm

      Absolutely, that distance between starting something and rereading it is equally useful when editing. You suddenly have a fresh perspective on your own work and can see how good it is – or where you’ve gone horribly wrong!

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