DoOver

Q: When to return to old projects?

6 posts in this topic

Restarted the podcast in Season 1 and in one of the episodes I was reminded of the saying that authors may need to write 1,000,000 words before reaching competency (hopefully I understood that correctly). For me this will be between 8 to 10 novels worth of writing (I've written 3.5 novel first drafts so far).

 

  • With that in mind, when should I return to an old project, such as novel idea/project #3?
  • Should I take the outline of the old project and write all new words based on that outline, or edit the old project instead?
  • Or trusting that once I'm a more competent writer and trusting in my current ability that ideas come fairly easy; I should simply focus on new content and chalk those old projects up to the learning process, archived for nostalgia sake alone?

 

Hopefully that makes sense.

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For when to return to an old project:

1) Never

2) Unless you really want to

 

Or for a more concise version:

1) Write what you're most excited about

 

I have all my old writing files away. When I first wrote them and workshopped them, people would provide me feedback and I would fix a few things and then workshop them again. And again. And again. It's hard to let go of what you think is a really good idea, and I struggled with this for a very long time.

The solution for me was to shelve stories and move on to other projects. Even if I workshopped the story, I wouldn't usually do a rewrite immediately unless I'd written it for a something that had an impending submission deadline. I'd leave it for a few months and then reread/rewrite based on notes and with a fresher outlook. It was easier for me to excise portions I wouldn't have been able to when I was very close to the previous draft. Also, I write fairly slowly, so I always have more ideas than I know what to do with. There's always something else for me to work on rather than trying to fix old works.

Now that I've got more writing experience, I've started going back through some of those old stories. Most of them are very deeply flawed and I know they're not worth trying to fix because there isn't enough there to work with. But some make me smile, and I think I can turn them around, and I become excited about the prospect of rewriting them.

I think it's good practise to let writing cool off for a while before trying an editing pass, and I recommend it, but some people I know cannot work that way so they do what works for them.

So, if you're excited about a new project more than you are about digging out an old one, then write the new thing. If you're writing the current thing while wishing you could be fixing the old thing, then fix the old thing (unless somebody's paying you for the current thing). Either way you'll be building the skills you need to be a better writer. 

 

For your second question I don't have an answer. If I have a story that's deeply flawed, I'll go back to the outline, fix that, and then start from scratch because that's faster for me. If I get to a specific scene and I know that the one I wrote before (in the previous draft) is perfectly adequate, there's nothing to stop me from pasting it in. Again, every writer is different, you'll need to do what works for you. Try both, maybe, and see which you prefer for future rewrites.

 

For your third question, I think I have to go back to my first answer. If you have a new project you're excited to write, write it. If you know how to fix an old project and you're excited to do that, then do that instead. The skills you improve will serve you equally well for new works and rewrites, so work on what's fun. Everything gets chalked up to the learning process.

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I was going to answer your question, then I read Shrike's response, and my comments became a whole lot shorter. Shrike has nailed most of what I (hope) I would have said, and given a whole lot more besides, BUT...

 

I would temper that with a qualifier - Learn how to finish. I think there's a danger of developing Starters' Syndrome if you form a habit of flitting from one idea to another, but I think we are talking about finished projects, in which case - I would endorse what Shrike said, and maybe only add, Learn how to edit. Give that finished project a chance by trying and edit, and even if it still does not satisfy, you have completed an edit of a finish novel.

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Agreed with Robinski about learning how to finish. I think most of the time writers put something aside because they don't know what happens next (true in my case, at least). That or they realize it's broken and don't want to waste any more time on a flawed work. Forcing yourself through what happens next helps you see what works and what doesn't, and is never a waste of time because you're still building skills.

Also agreed about editing, and would recommend editing other people's works besides just your own. Identifying mistakes in other writers' writing helps you avoid making them yourself. We have a Reading Excuses forum here for exactly that if you're interested in seeing what others are doing and/or sharing your own work for feedback.

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Thanks all.

 

Yeah, ever since I changed from a discovery writer to an outliner, challenges with finishing are almost non-existent.

Agreed I need to practice editing, but I also hear ya that book one written ten years ago as a fledgling writer, just fuhgeddaboudit and move on to new content.

 

Thanks Ardent for the plug on Reading Excuses. I'll check it out.

 

Thanks again.

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Exactly what they said. Bear in mind the advice to not stick to old projects exists to make new writers learn to finish and move on. It's not a cosmic rule, and "breaking" it will bring no adverse effects like the world builder disease or the death of a puppy.

 

Looking critically at your old work has some educational value once you learn to not fall into one of the mentioned pitfalls. It's an opportunity to use almost everything in your skill set, from story restructuring to heavy editions, besides the usual process of writing itself. Because it's old work you might feel less attached to it—making it easier, if not fun to kill your darlings and seriously practice "what if...?".

 

Every time you stumble on one of these "rules" ask yourself what possibly made someone suggest it in first place. This alone already teaches a lot.

 

 

By the way, this 1,000,000 words thing exists to encourage practice. You won't automatically become a good writer once you reach this goal, nor will you be a poor writer before it. If practice is important, the quality of that practice is even more important. Be attentive, learn your strengths and weaknesses, ask yourself a lot of questions and strive to answer them, and you're all set.

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