I have always identified myself as a writer, some days more rightly so than others. I’ve just always felt a deep connection to reading and writing. Before I could read, I followed my mom around, my arms full of books, begging her to read them to me. I focused on Creative Writing and Literature throughout my entire education, graduating from Berkeley with a Literature degree and emphasis on CW. That being said, I’ve always been deeply fascinated with the writing process, whether we’re talking about Hemingway’s or a fellow peer. This blog was partially born out of that fascination– a space for sources of inspiration and the process of creating. So I’ve decided to start a series about the writing process, as I move through it myself. Today, I’m here to talk about revisiting old works of fiction. What works, what doesn’t, and what I’m still figuring out.
Over the years, I’ve started and finished many projects. I’ve also dropped projects that I felt passionate about due to time and life constraints. My latest excuse has been starting a career in advertising– once I took the job, my output of original work dried right up. It took me nearly a year just to get reading again. Recently though, I met someone in advertising who is dedicated to writing in her free time, and getting to know her and her work inspired me in a big way. I decided to get back into the game by editing a novel I wrote and abandoned my freshman year of college. Picking up that old, 250-page work of fiction has been quite the endeavor, especially with a self-imposed deadline.
It actually took a few weeks of getting to know my writer friend before she ever mentioned her novel. Almost immediately, we realized that we both shared a passion for the craft and that what she’s currently pursuing in earnest is the same topic I specialized in at school. I read her novel, thoroughly enjoyed it, and gave feedback where I could. I mentioned my own abandoned novel, and she invited me to send it to her. I was humbled and honored to receive such an invitation, but knew that my story would need a serious reworking before I ever placed it in new hands.
To be honest, it took some time before I found my footing in this process. I hadn’t touched this story in four years, and its sheer volume was intimidating. Below, I’ve outlined the steps I took and what worked best.
- Reading the whole thing over. I actually just uploaded a PDF of the work into my phone’s kindle app, and read through to see what I actually had to work with.
- Bookmarking every page. that I felt could be tweaked, so I wouldn’t have to go back and start from scratch once I was done reading.
- Beginning to edit. I opened up the word document and dove right in. It’s actually easier to edit when you haven’t looked at something in a long time, since your gut instincts aren’t clouded by being too close to the work.
- Printing it out. Once I hit the 50% mark, I printed out the first half of the story. I read through a little more swiftly, pen in hand. Caught little details I wanted to tweak, and saw how I wanted to change some bigger pieces. Printing out a story to proofread is like reading it for the first time– one of the greatest pieces of advice I have yet to receive.
What I would’ve done differently:
- Not taking so long to get started! I definitely spent a week or two talking about starting, and I really wish I’d just gotten to it. Now I’m in a mad dash to finish editing before my friend/reader leaves for Thailand.
- Bookmarking the pages was a waste of time. Because I didn’t take notes along the way, I was left second-guessing myself on several pages. Ultimately, I just decided to start from the top and edit while reading through a second time.
What I found really helpful:
- Being a reader. Giving the work a preliminary reading, without focusing on the writing was a very helpful refresher. I think it’s worth differentiating a reader’s experiences from a writer’s– the work should flow on its own and have a distinct personality, without needing any sort of context. It also takes some of the pressure off– things don’t need to be perfect from the get-go.
- Printing it out. I almost skipped this step since I’m so strapped for time, but thank goodness I didn’t. Even when it’s just tweaking a word here or there, it tends to make a big difference in the overall reading experience.
- Finding a reader. I never would have pick this piece up again had it not been for someone lighting that fire under me. Whether it’s a friend, peer, or a local writer’s group– find a willing pair of eyes.
- Making the time. Even if I only had time for to review or edit a few pages, I would take out my laptop and do what I could, always noting my stopping point. I would be much further behind without that slow but sure progress.