Old Hat: Reading Your Old Writing

A lot of writers I know don’t like to read their old writing.  They make fun of it, as if to somehow distance themselves from it.  They’ll discredit it, debunk it, slander it, hide it, bury it, burn it in effigy, burn it in reality, etc.


If you’ve been writing for any time at all, you probably have some old writing that you’re not sure about.  If you go back and read it, you’ll probably be forced to adapt this method of coping with how bad it is.  And it’s not bad because you’re a terrible writer.  It’s bad because you are (or were) a fledgling writer, that had to fall out of the tree a few times before you could fly.

All that being said, I love my first book.  Granted, it’s bad. Really bad.  If you don’t even mention the spelling and grammar errors that somehow slipped through multiple revisions, then you have to at least admit that the plot was thin (at some points unbelievable) the villains were incompetent, and the fact that my hero successfully wielded two full-sized broadswords was as impossible as it was cliché.  However, I don’t put it down or try to forget that it happened or distance it from the rest of my more ‘successful’ novel portfolio because “The Prince of Fairlyn” played a crucial role in my development as an author, and while it had major issues, it also had minor successes.  Plus, it was filled with milestones of my writing career: first hero orphaned, first mentor killed, first reader engaged by tragic death of ally, first time killing off almost entire cast, first time actually finishing a novel, first time writing a showdown, first time hero defeated villain, etc.

My point in all this is that our earlier novels (even the ones which were, for all intents and purposes, bad) are important parts of our journey, and reading through them can continue to help us along our way.  How?  Here we go.

Not That Bad

Sure, when you get done reading though that old first novel, you’ll probably have to cry yourself to sleep and have nightmares about dubious clichés, haunting unsubtleties, and really, really, REALLY bad dialogue.  But that being said, you’ll probably also be surprised as you read through when you realize that in between the choppy scenes and all flat characters there are a handful of really good, emotional moments.  Or maybe some great settings, details, dialogue, or whatever.  There are some good things about your novel, and reading them can be encouraging, but they can also help you focus your current works on your strengths, turning them into even better novels.

Not That Good

Another great encouragement you can glean from reading old material is realizing how bad it is, and how far you’ve come as a writer.  Your first novel is the beginning of your writing career, and looking back can help you see how far you’ve come.


There to be Ignored

So, if you have an old novel to look back on, read, laugh at, then that means you had to have written it, right?  Sometimes it helps me to look back at what I’ve written to remind myself that I can finish the project I’m on.  It helps me remember that I won’t be stuck on my current novel forever, and one day I’ll be looking for a new idea and starting off fresh, with a little more experience and a lot more words behind me.


Your old novels, like it or not, are part of who you are as a writer.  Don’t let their shortcomings blind you to the successes of your past, or keep you from pressing forward into the future.

What were your first novels about?  What did you do well, or what mistakes did you make that make you laugh every time you think of them?

Haven’t finished a novel yet?  Don’t have a clue what we are talking about?  Don’t worry, you will finish your novel soon and, given a little time, you’ll be able to revisit this post with new eyes.


Photo: red, white, and blue books, CCAC North Library, CC BY NC 2.0

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Raised on C.S. Lewis and matured (to whatever extent) on Tolkien, Brandon Miller is a huge fan of Christian speculative fiction. His favorite stories artfully bend the physical reality to reveal spiritual realities which apply to all realms, kingdoms, districts and solar systems (including our own.)
When not writing fiction Brandon spends his time tending his blog The Woodland Quill, sportsing, or just struggling through that last-year-of-high-school/first-year-of-college which is really neither but is definitely both.


  1. Laura May 23, 2016 at 2:17 PM - Reply

    So, no, I haven’t finished a project yet and often times get discouraged with how long it takes me. I start thinking, “Maybe I should just wait till I’m old and retired and have time to write ALL DAY LONG.” But there’s two things that keep plaguing my conscience about giving up, and think they’re two major things every writer should come to acknowledge and be ok with in their lives: 1) What if all the painful effort I put into writing would only ever change one person’s life? What if that one person was me? Would I still be ok with that? 2) I may be the only one being changed while writing this horrible/terrifying manuscript… but if I give up now I may be destroying the chance for another to be changed, as well.
    These have been the thoughts in my mind lately…

    ANYWAYS: Great post!=D And, though I haven’t finished a novel, I DO understand the feeling one gets in rereading an old piece of writing… I jump back and forth btw. the feelings of having come a long way and( when I’m having a particularly awful day in my writing) I’ll think, “Geeze! I could write A LOT better back in the day! How did I get to be such a mess?” =/ XD haha

    • Brandon May 24, 2016 at 9:28 AM Reply

      Keep plugging, you’ll finish one soon. (That’s just part of the natural progression of things.) And yes, being willing to write even if you think you are the only one who will ever be changed by your writing is a fantastic way to keep things in perspective. (Plus, if you’re writing to change you, then what you write will be able to change someone else too.)

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