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.