January 15, 2010

Old Writings Made New - Bonnie Way

In Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery tells the story of a budding young writer. Emily writes poetry, stories, and letters to her father on scraps of paper, learning when it’s okay to write (not during school!) and what it’s okay to write about (not your aunt’s bad temper!). Each year, as she grows and matures and improves in her writing, she looks back at some of her earlier pieces and is disappointed to find that they aren’t quite as good as she thought they were when she wrote them.

Every writer has faced such a situation; at first, each thing that we write seems brilliant. But as we write more and more, we learn more and more about writing and our earliest pieces of writing seem like very bad pieces of writing. Are they worthy only of the garbage can? A few writers answer this question in their interviews on Whohub (follow the links for complete interviews):

My own suggestion was to “Look at them again. ... like Emily, review your work. Some of it will be good—worth saving. Some of it will have gems in it that you can use, with a bit of editing and reworking. And some of it should just be thrown away—or used as examples of how your writing has improved over the years.” I posted one of my first stories on my blog to remind me how long I've had this crazy writing dream and how much I've learned since I started.

Marcia Laycock says, “Nothing is ever wasted. It has all been part of learning the craft. You might want to use a snippet from something you wrote years ago in a short story or a novel you'll work on next year. Or a short story that is still sitting on your computer may become a novel. You never know. Don't throw anything away.”

Jenny Roche adds, “Dig them out and you might find they're better than you think. Rewrite to bring up to date and add a little bit of the polish you've gained from additional experience. Then submit as usual. Otherwise, wait until you're famous (if you're not already) and flog them on ebay or at auction. Everybody understands nobody's writing is great to start with and they'll be worth a fortune!”

And finally, Terrence Mix suggests, “Never be afraid to show your writing to someone whose opinion you would trust. Experiencing rejection is part of the process, and I doubt that there is one major writer, both today and in the past, who has not been rejected. It is the only way you can learn and grow as an author.”

So if nothing new is coming to you in your writing these days, maybe it’s time to look at some old pieces and see if they can be dusted off and updated!

~ Bonnie Way


  1. Good advice, Bonnie. Nice that we can now save them on computer and don't need a four-drawer filing cabinet!

  2. One of my resolutions is to unclutter my office - actually my whole house, maybe even my life! Part of that clutter is paper and more paper with stuff on it of which you speak. I'm expecting to have moments of feeling torn - do I throw out, or not...

  3. Good answers, Bonnie. Thanks for sharing them for those of us who haven't been to Whohub yet.

    Sharing our early writing online without fixing it up -- mine was so bad, I'd be mortified. Just reading it myself made me cringe.

    You're right, though, it's good to see where we've come from. And to remember we need to keep improving.

  4. Wonderful thoughts, Bonnie!


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