Literary Resolutions - Rereading Your Old Work

Literary Resolutions 2011!

I found out about these through Theresa Milstein last month. May's resolution is to spend the month rereading your old work.

Now, I'm not sure why it takes a month. I spent a whole night looking through documents I've saved for the past fifteen years (anything older isn't on the computer) and that was enough for me!

Boy, I sure drivelled on sometimes ("Melancholy rocks in a slow chair").

So many of my short story, poetry and play titles came from other people's song titles. I've got a funny spoof I did of hard-boiled fiction, a short short about Liam Gallagher, and one about my favourite Britpop bands at the time, as well as a short story version of the Pulp's Don't You Want Me Anymore (guy leaves girl; guy returns to girl to find she's taken up with another guy). Also a Bukowski-esque piece, a Stephen Fry ripoff (that's what I called it), and a pile of book, album and concert reviews. My German used to be one heck of a lot better, more's the pity. I read a few of my plays and short stories, and wow, I've lost so much vocabulary, I can barely understand my own writing.

Then there's the one and only time I ever tried to plot a story. All about Katherine Richler, her friend Arlene Rochester, her love interest Christopher Randall, and his friend Allen Fougler (what was I thinking with those names?). After I listed Katherine's name, age, schooling, career, etc., I added:

"Bollocks. This isn't working, I have typed her name and a thousand different sentences, finally decided what I want, her walking down the street to her rented car, to go down to Old Montreal to meet Christopher and his partner, and I can not begin."

Then, instead of starting the story, I decided to, ahem, explore his eye colour: "His lips are full, and when his smile is genuine it includes his entire face, his eyes growing greener. When he's serious or troubled, all the green is lost, becoming only faint specks near the pupil and a chocolate brown stares at you, deep in whatever emotion he is in, anger or sadness. His eyebrows are on a ridge, shadowing his eyes without covering them, and they are not joined in the middle."

And that is why I'm not a plotter.

There are some good words in there among all the chaff, though. At some point I wrote: "The roses which prick you / do so not because they have thorns / but because you hold them too closely."

I also had a three line poem on Romeo and Juliet. Then, for some reason, I wrote about the circus:

under the big top
when you're waking all those faces
and the colours are bright on your skin
they're shining and shining and shining
full house tonight
hey man, the laughter's loud
it's echoing from all sides
and running all down your spine
to the ballooning pants and the
big shoes
they're cackling when you snap your
they're howling when you've got custard
in your eyes
and the tears are from the smoke, right?
Have you looked at your old writing lately?

Meanwhile, on A Round of Words in 80 Days, I'm gearing up for Barbara Rogan's Revising Fiction course (starts 14 June!) by finalising my synopsis - draft after draft after draft. I think I've memorised it by now...

And don't forget! Ann Best's memoir, In The Mirror, came out yesterday!


Al said…
I don't honestly have much old writing.
Old drafts of my novel is about it.
Oh, and every paper I wrote my second time at university.
Boring really
Zan Marie said…
The only thing that saves me from reading the really old stuff, is it molded and I had to throw it out. Never thought I'd be grateful to mold. LOL!
Anonymous said…
I rather like how you described that eye color!

Today I'm actually rereading an old YA I wrote about angels several years ago. It's fun to see how your writing changes over the years.
Li said…
This is a timely post for me! Actually, over the past few weeks I have dug out quite a bit of old writing. Some of it is tragically bad, and yet I salvaged a paragraph from one story and turned it into a poem, reduced the idea for a (probably) unworkable novel into a flash fiction, and chose 2 chapters out of 10 of an unfinished novel to re-work and send in another direction. I seldom throw any work away, because you never know where you'll find inspiration or a new angle.
Jenny Maloney said…
Ha! This is a super-timely post for me too...and I did this by accident. I found this 3.5 floppy (you guys still remember what those are?) that said Jenny's Miscellaneous Writing. And I went through all kinds of pains to find a computer that would still read it! I won't talk about it because I was, I don't even know what to say for myself....
Naina Gupta said…
What was your Stephen Fry type story?
Jill W. said…
Timely for me, too!

Yes, I look at my old writing once in a while -- I did a few days ago. Most if not all of my earliest stuff is lost as far as I know (the world will not regret this [g]). The earlier stuff is pretty painful to look at, hehe.

I say pretty much the same thing re: all of them, though. "It seemed like a good idea at the time!" [bg]

Love your Super Mario chompy flower tunnel monster L thing. I forget what the heck they call it. [g]

You're not a plotter either, huh? I got about 70,000 words into one of my fanfics before it fell apart because I had no idea how to do plot. I realized I was having the same problem in my first WIP this year. Plotting in detail has never worked for me, but with this WIP, I'm trying to at least know major plot points and arcs. It's helping _me_, even if it's not really doing anything for the word count.

Yay for poetry! Hey, the circus one wasn't _that_ bad...[g]
Anne Gallagher said…
I try not to look because it's jsut so bad. But I did lift a notebook last month and read through some of it. (Before gagging and stuffing it back into the box.)

My current WiP is a reworking of a novel I wrote 3 years ago, so does that count?
Unknown said…
I do not dare read my old stuff.... In fact, i have just boxed it all up and am cheerfully going to send it up to the attic. I think all that stuff is holding me back in a way from exploring new places. I keep going back to the old stuff, and feeling guilty about it. But really, I need to let it go.
Sarah McCabe said…
I'm glad I got rid of the vast majority of my old stuff. God, it's so embarrassing how much of a plagiarist I once was.
Elizabeth said…
I don't write so have nothing old. But I
just wanted to say I love your line:

"Boy, I sure drivelled on sometimes ("Melancholy rocks in a slow chair")

It sounds like what happens in my mind...
Claudia Lefeve said…
I got rid of my old writing a long time ago! There was nothing to salvage :)

And I'm with you...I'm not a plotter either. I do very rough outlines (so I dont get confused) but that's it.
J.L. Campbell said…
I have way too many things I should be looking at, but one thing I notice when I get out the old stuff is that I'm a much better writer now.
Jenny Maloney said…
Oh! And guess what I found today? In my mom's hope chest was a theme book from my kindergarten days.

Apparently we had the assignment to enter little stories every day. On the front cover, where the teacher leaves notes is the following:

"Jennifer [which I don't get because everyone my whole life has called me Jenny] - you need to work on new ideas. Your stories make sense, but they are almost the same everyday."


Stupid kindergarten teacher.
Nas said…
Reading our old writing shows us how we've improved...I do cringe when I read something I wrote just last year. So anything prior...well!
J.L. Murphey said…
Now, there is a scary thought! LOL Actually I find myself looking at older writing going back some thirty years and go "wow, what a bunch of crapola!"
Trisha said…
Hmmm........ This is actually a kind of cool idea! I might have to reserve some upcoming month for doing it. :) Only after I'm done with my book reading goal though. I'm not too far off that. hehe.
Thanks for linking my blog.

I don't think it should take a whole month either, unless you're revisiting an entire manuscript. I pulled a prologue I'd written years ago, taking the ideas and turning it into a chapter 1. The told thing was tell, and now I've got some show going on. I've also jotted some notes about where some of the plot lines may go. Now I've trunked it while I finish revising my current manuscript.

Maybe this weekend I'll dust off an old manuscript. I think my first one has promise. I looked at a few chapters in the summer. I'd like to work on it more. The May challenge is a good excuse!
Vicki Tremper said…
A couple of months ago I reread a MG I wrote a while back (like 4 years ago or so), while awaiting feedback on my YA wip from my betas. I made notes for what I need to do next. I was encouraged to see that it wasn't that bad. Sure it needs work, but I think I can fix it. So I look forward to that when I can get back to it.
Susan Fields said…
I avoid looking at my old writing - too depressing and how poorly written it is. Onward and upward!
Deniz Bevan said…
You're better than me, Al - I save every silly scrap.

I think DH wishes mine would mould, Zan Marie. I'm a bit of a pack rat...

Thanks Liz! It *is* funny how much can change. I hope we're growing for the better!

It's true, li, there's usually bits and pieces that are salvageable. I've got a couple of short stories that aren't so bad.

Hey Jenny, I made that CD off all my old 3.5 disks! I still have a disk with some 1993-era Mac stuff on it. Including a ridiculous story about two convicts handcuffed together and the cop that was driving them through the Nevada desert...

Hi Naina - the Stephen Fry piece was a column I wrote, as if I was a journalist. I started with "They say every columnist is allowed one such column – the ideal escape for when there is no ready topic to fill the allotted space – to describe and detail the actual act of writing. Stephen Fry, the British comedian, actor, author, and ultimate Jeeves, has written one of the better and more amusing ones." Then I rambled on about the ridiculous customers that came into the coffee shop where I worked...
Deniz Bevan said…
Oh Jill, isn't the Drop Cap lovely? I get 'em from

I sure hope reworkings count, Anne, cos every once in a while I try to salvage some of my short stories.

You're right, Melanie, we shouldn't feel guilty about it - all that rough stuff got us where we are today!

I know what you mean, Sarah. I had lyrics and lines from my favourite stories scattered all over the place.

Thank you Elizabeth! I couldn't help but like that melancholy line a little myself - though the rest of it was too silly to post!

I do outlines once I'm some way in, Claudia. And timelines. Definitely need those!

Yay J. L.! I hope we all are!

What a terrible thing for the teacher to say, Jenny! I wrote a story about a cow when I was in kindergarten. And a kid named Aldo.
Deniz Bevan said…
I'm always surprised when I find something that *doesn't* make me cringe, Nas!

It's great that we improve, isn't it Jo?

Stick with the book reading, Trisha! Yay books :-)

Good luck with your manuscript Theresa! That's true, if I was doing that, it would take even more than a month...

That's always the best feeling, Vicki, when you look at something and realise it's not so bad. I'm hoping to return to my MG one of these days...

Onward and upward Susan! I didn't mind looking back - the funniest bits of my old pieces were all the weird diary entry type notes I made along the margins!
Trisha said…
Award time!
Deniz Bevan said…
Thank you Trisha!
Naina Gupta said…
Oh I see.
I love Stephen Fry. I have read a couple of his books, and I want to read his autobiography as well. His show QI is also fantastic.
Arlee Bird said…
I had to follow the link to check out the circus poem.

Not too shabby. I like it.

Enjoy my delightful interview with Susan Kane on
Wrote By Rote Saturday 11/26