Time heals all wounds…and it makes you a better writer too.
A short while ago, a friend of mine posted a Facebook status lamenting about his as yet unmet goals. It’s a topic I’ve often struggled with, so it was familiar. He complained that his goals were taking too long, and he is likely reading this blog post, so I won’t shout his name out but I will definitely say that he is nearly a decade younger than me and way too young to be thinking this way. Having experienced this restlessness, I decided it was time for me to expound on the great benefits of time.
When I was eighteen years old, I started to write my first book. I had started dreaming it up when I was fifteen, and had believed that I understood all of the minutiae of the plot, the characters, the setting – everything. But it was a trilogy and I had quite a few words to write and I didn’t feel comfortable doing anything with it until it was complete. So it took me until I was twenty-two years old to finish. And it was massive. I thought I had something incredible on my hands. But then I read it from the beginning.
It was horrible. It got better towards the end, but it was really, really bad. By the time I had finished it, I was a much better writer than I had been when I started it. So I put it away for a little while and vowed to come back to it.
When I came back to it, it looked even more horrible to me than it had when I had put it away. Amateurish dialog, very strange plotting, slow pacing, random POV jumps, and characters that were just plain unlikable. Anybody who follows my twitter feed has seen me jokingly take a knife to this thing, tweeting several horrendous lines I ran across in the process of attempting a reread. Despite the treacherous subject matter, however, rereading this was the next step in an important plan.
The story was unsalvageable. There was nothing I could do that would make this piece of tripe, written at a high school level with a distinct lean towards being a work of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction that was pretending not to be a Buffy fic, an actual work of art. But there were things there. Amazing things that helped me to see the seed of what I was to become as a writer within the primordial muck that was this story.
All was not lost. I reread the story and mined it for the good things I could take from it. And while I found some gems, most of the work had to go. The story I am writing now, The Order of the Key, has, maybe, a few characters and a theme or two from the original. But the meat of the story is all different. And that is because the meat of that old story sucked.
By now you are probably thinking something along the lines of “Cool story, bro, but what wisdom am I supposed to take away from this?” And the answer is this – Time is not your enemy. Time really and truly is on your side. Sometimes you may want to rush the development of your art. Sometimes something will be good enough that it doesn’t require you to look back through it. Sometimes you will be able to show it to the world right away. But the important thing to remember is that we learn more and more with time. So we should never be afraid to place something on the sidelines and come back to it a little later with fresh eyes and an older mind.
When I consider the very real possibility that I could have tried to publish that original story, that I would have had complete confidence in it only to be laughed at by agents and publishers alike, or worse, paid to self publish something that was not at any kind of standard I would be proud of later in life, I cringe. But you also don’t want to be too cautious either. You could end up with a story that deserves to be out in the world, despite your endless attempts to make edits.
So my suggestion is to reread. Then set aside. Then reread. Then hand off to others whose opinions you truly trust. Then make edits they suggest. Then set aside. Then reread. And eventually, you should feel more confident about what you’ve written, not just because you’re blindly in love with your work, but because you’ve checked and double checked and triple checked. You’ve allowed yourself to mature a bit, and then you’ve re-evaluated your situation.
I spent many years of my life complaining about not getting anywhere, and not becoming a known writer. But if it hadn’t been for time, I could have been the writer who was known for how terrible a job she’d done. Taking your time is worth the effort.