Revisiting the Past

Like most of the members of our Today’s Author community, I’ve been writing since I was very young.  Stories, poems, plays, diary entries (all on paper, since I’m a relic from the days before computers and blogs existed)… whatever it was, I wrote a lot as a young boy and as a teen.  And as you would expect, some of what I wrote was very good, some was very bad and some was very average.  I kept it all, though, in folders and files.  Over the years, I typed much of it into the computer so that I could stop lugging reams of paper around all the time, but I didn’t edit or modify as I did so, I just typed it in.

There are days when I pull up one of these old stories or the old file of poetry and read through them.  Some of it is downright embarrassing to read — either because of the quality of the work or because of the memory of the teenaged emotions that fueled the work in the first place.  But some of it is actually good, potentially-useable stuff.  But I am often torn about what to do with this old stuff.  At the time I wrote it, it was “done” and fine.  But now, with the wisdom of my many, many years, there are times when I look at these old stories and think I can rewrite them now and they would be so much better than they were when I wrote them at 13 years old.  Then, as I think about the rewrite, I overthink it and decide that there is no way I could actually end up with something better… it would just be different. I am strongly considering doing this with a couple of the stories I wrote in high school that were very popular among my friends… though I keep hesitating because I have this memory of how popular the stories were at the time and I don’t want to damage that memory either.

So, today I’m doing a little bit of a poll of our readership, to try to gauge your thoughts on this.  Assuming you have kept the stories you wrote as a child or as a teen… do you ever go back and re-read it?  What do you think of your efforts from back then?  Have you considered taking one of your old works and rewriting it now from your more mature point of view?

NaNoWriMo, Don’t Stop Now

or

What to do with your 50,000 words now that you’ve won NaNoWriMo

dont_stopCongratulations. You’ve survived a NaNoWriMo November. Not only that, you won. You kept a vigilant eye on that daily goal. And you met–or even exceeded–that goal enough days in the last month that you’ve emerged from the fray with 50,000 words. Now, it’s time to take a look at what you have.

You’ve got a bad, first draft. I’m not trying to tear you down. I’m just telling you what is, in all likelihood, the truth.

But that’s OK. NaNoWriMo, isn’t designed to get you to write a polished novel. It’s supposed to get you off the sofa and into your writing chair. And it did that. But NaNoWriMo is just a first step. And I’d like to give you a little advice on how to take the next step, and do something with what you just wrote.

1. Pause, Don’t Stop

Do you know how long it takes to break a bad habit? Or to create a good one? 28 days. If you do something for 28 days, you have changed YOU. You are now a more productive writer. So we don’t want to lose that. But it’s also important to acknowledge that the pace you’ve been holding yourself to isn’t sustainable–at least not if you have school or a job (or both). Plus, over the past month you’ve probably negelected a few things–maybe even an important person in your life.

So for a couple days it’s a good idea to calm down. Rregroup. Relax. Take your understanding sweetie out for a thank-you dinner. Catch up on a few deadlines and that pile of laundry.

And while you should NOT keep writing at the breakneck pace you’ve been pushing for, you should definitely keep writing. Every day. Even if it’s just a little. Unless your story ended at 50,000 words, just keep writing that. Even if it’s just for 20 minutes each day.

You’re not done, but yes, you deserve a break. A small one.

2. Evaluate

NaNoWriMo doesn’t really allow time to look over what you’ve written. That’s intentional. It’s real purpose is to show you what you can do if you turn off your internal editor. But now you need that annoying alter ego with the red pen. Reread your NaNoWriMo output with a critical eye.

If the story has held up, great. Highlight sections that might not be up to the quality you want. Move stuff around so it flows better. NaNoWriMo left you with a beautiful mound of clay that looks kind of like a story. But now it’s time for careful sculpting to bring out the details.

If your story didn’t hold up, that’s OK too. Because I guarantee you there are snipets of gold in that morass of 50,000 words. Now comes the time to find those hidden treasures and get rid of the rest (BTW, “get rid of” means move into a different document so you can look over it if you need to. It does NOT mean delete).

Which brings me to a question. At the end of NaNoWriMo was your story done? If so you can skip Step 3 and head directly to Step 4. But for the other 99.9%, Step 3 is for you.

3. Keep Writing the Story

Just because NaNoWriMo is over doesn’t mean your story is. Finish it. If the heavy word count is something that was working for you, then keep sprinting. Or, if the gaps in your plot were starting to bug you, but you couldn’t patch the cracks and still win, now is a great time to slow down and smooth over the rough spots. Do a little character backstory, or chart out your plot. Now that you’re not on a strict deadline, you can take a little time and proceed with a little more deliberation if that’s what you want.

What you don’t want to do is set the 50,000 words aside and say, “I’ll get back to it later.” Too many NaNoWriMo novels have died because the author lost momentum. NaNoWriMo tries to make a habit of out writing now. Don’t settle back into the habit of writing later.

4. Edit

After your NaNoWriMo novel is written, you don’t have a finished book. You have a finished draft. So here’s the time when you go back over your work and tweak, rewrite, path, expound…whatever you need to do to turn a rough draft into a second draft, and eventually into a finished work.

How long did it take you to write your daily NaNoWriMo word count? 2 hours? Then set aside 2 hours each day to edit and revise your book. If that wasn’t a pace you could keep up, then make it one hour.

Wrapping it up

If you haven’t noticed the theme running through this post, let me sum up.

You’re not done. So don’t stop.