Did I Really Write That?

Once upon a time, I decided to finally keep the promise I’d made to myself many times in my life: I’d write a novel. The year was 1999. At that time, most of the books I read were written by Stephen King or Maeve Binchy, so I guess it’s logical that I set out to write a character-driven paranormal story. I started writing in September and finished in the spring of 2000.

Somewhere during those months, I joined RWA (Romance Writers of America) not because I was writing a romance, but because they were the only writing group I could find in my area. After that I did start calling it a paranormal romance and even entered the first three chapters in a national contest. The judges’ comments were unanimous: This is not a romance!

Okay then. I revised it to straight horror … or paranormal … or whatever you call a novel about reincarnation and an evil spirit.

And now, fourteen years later, I’m revising that novel again. In the intervening years, I pulled up that file and played at revision, but never got very far before real life called me away. So, when I pulled it up again this year, the beginning chapters seemed in pretty good shape. I even blogged at the beginning of this month that I’d looked through it and found the writing quality not as bad as I’d feared.

I just didn’t look far enough or read closely enough.

About halfway through, I hit the chapters that hadn’t been touched since 2000. Oh my, was I in love with dialogue tags back then. I used them for about sixty percent of the lines … in a conversation between only two people! And some of those tags were “telling” ones: “he growled” or “he huffed” or “she begged.” But even when I used plain old said, often I tacked on an adverb: “he said angrily” or “she said brightly” instead of making the dialogue and action do the work.

But the worst error, the one that really made me cringe, is in a love scene. No, I didn’t use silly euphemisms for body parts, though I did make the mistake of having the main character, a construction worker, use unlikely flowery language. But most egregious is the messy point of view. Though I’ve used three viewpoints in this novel, those are confined to one per scene or chapter (third person limited.) But in this love scene, the POV ping pongs from his to hers throughout (omniscient.)

Fortunately, I’d found only an occasional POV slip in all the previous chapters. But this scene … wow! Now, I have to decide from which character’s viewpoint the scene is best told and get to editing. The most rewarding thing about this revision is catching these mistakes. I’ve learned a lot about the craft in fourteen years … and I’m still learning.

When you look back at your older work, whatever that is, do you see progress—or were you great from the beginning?

 

Linda

16 thoughts on “Did I Really Write That?

  1. I think it’s amazing, the stuff we discover when we revisit old work. Surprises all around–may it be good or bad. My old stuff tend to makes me laugh because they’re just that bad. But sometimes you find something good and those are always good days. Either way, you get good laugh out of it. Good luck with your revisions!

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  2. The more we write, the more we learn. I’m in the midst of revising an old short story. Although I still like the story and the writing is pretty good, I see a lot of room for improvement based on what I’ve learned over the years.It would be sad if we hadn’t learned anything.

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  3. I revisited my NANO 2009 novel in 2013 and was intrigued not to see myself peeking out in the background. It read like it had no emotional connection to me, it read seamlessly like a scifi novel that I’d pick up in the library. That lasted for about 5 chapters until too many species of aliens showed up and I had to start using the delete button until it smoked.

    Neat that you can see what you want to change in your old work and not agonize over it. I think that in and of itself is one of the greatest tools in a writer’s toolkit. Recognize you can do better, then do it. happy sigh

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    1. You’re right, Karen. 🙂 Though, even after 14 years, I find myself wondering if I’m letting some darlings live. If I am, I’m hopeful my alpha reader will call me on them. I hope you whipped your NANO novel into shape.

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  4. One’s photowork generally improves through the years. It’s being able to compose the image you want to shoot and use the light and shadows to shape what’s in your mind’s eye. It’s all about developing the skill set. Whenever I look at my older stuff, I wonder whatever possessed me to take that particular shot. These days, I take more time to determine if I have the proper light and shadow combination to get the shot I want.

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  5. Hey, you! waves
    My favorite “did I really write that” occurred when I was in junior high school. I had just started dabbling with writing and wrote the beginning of a slasher story. The next summer vacation I read through the pages and cringed. “Who wrote this garbage?” I re-wrote what was there and continued on. The next summer vacation the process repeated. “Who wrote this garbage?”
    So funny!
    That was a long time ago. Thankfully, I no longer refer to my writing as “garbage”, but it does continue to improve.
    I hope you’re well, my friend. Have a great week!

    -Jimmy

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  6. Coincidentally, I was just going through some old files this evening, some short stories I’d written WAY back. Some aren’t so wonderful, but I see them as stepping stones. I even found a few that I think I can dust off and submit. Somehow I got sidetracked away from short story writing and stopped sending out submissions because I was busy writing novels. Sometimes, we let go of stories when maybe we should hang onto them a little longer, and work through whatever it was that made us stop writing. Best of luck!

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    1. Oh, I wish you luck on those stories, Laura! 🙂

      I’ve stopped and started revising short stories several times. Eventually, I’d like to get a couple polished so I could try submitting them. I guess it wouldn’t be too distracting from the novels to work on one every so often.

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      1. One writer I know says she likes to work on short stories in between her novel writing. I think it makes sense and it’s nice have submissions out there. I do miss that. And have started submitting a few this winter that were just collecting dust because I got side-tracked when Bitter, Sweet was published.. I realized that there’s really no money to be made and I feel just as great having a short story published as a novel. So why not? Of course I’ll work on my novels as well, but I don’t want to feel the pressure of having to write something as apposed to wanting to write something. Does that make sense?

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