I have – finally – moved house and am now settling into a lovely flat in one of England’s beautiful cathedral cities. It’s like being on an extended holiday, just as quite a few friends told me it would be! I love going for walks around the city walls, coming across flint-and-stone houses, Roman mosaics, winding alleys, old street signs and springtime gardens. I really feel transported back to different times – Georgian, Medieval and Roman. As I walk, I’m imagining the characters, good and not-so-good, who used to live here. A few more outings and I might have a plot or two!
Prior to moving, I was doing a lot of clearing out, trying to keep sentiment at bay, just so that everything would fit in the new home. And it made me think that, as writers, we probably have the same predicament.
Is that story worth keeping? It didn’t win that competition I sent it in for, so why bother?
Should I have another go at that story I never finished? Or just ditch it and start again?
Judging our own writing is ALWAYS difficult, if not downright impossible. We can try to see it through a judge’s eyes, or an editor’s, but unless we get feedback from those people, that too is hard. So, should we keep everything we write, and go back to it from time to time? Or should every new competition entry be completely fresh?
I’ve heard from a friend of someone in her writing group who revamps their stories over and over, changing them a little each time to fit the current topic or theme. The group is getting fed up with hearing basically the same story all the time.
Two points here:
- I agree with the group. If the stories are for the group’s entertainment, then constantly using the same plot, or setting, or characters, is a lazy way of writing.
- If, however, the writer is entering those stories in different competitions, then I don’t see anything wrong in revamping what the writer, clearly, thinks is a good story.
My advice would be ALWAYS SAVE YOUR WRITING. It’s so much easier now that we have computers with folders, hard drives, memory sticks and Clouds! But I still have the original manuscript of the very first novel I ever wrote – on a typewriter, the words now fading as the paper yellows with age. Remember changing those black and red ribbons?
There is no harm at all in going back and re-reading what you have written in the past. You may be pleasantly surprised at your plot, your characters and your style. On the other hand, you may be disappointed. I know in that first novel of mine, I am appalled at how often I change point of view!
But I am absolutely convinced that every time writers write, you improve, particularly if you are part of a class, workshop or group. I believe it works subliminally. Maybe a visiting speaker to your writers’ group talks about concrete nouns. For a couple of weeks, you may actively think about them every time you write. After a while, that topic is superseded by another, but the memory lingers in the brain.
So, I will usually come down on the side of writing something new when producing a piece for your writing group or entering a competition. It will be far better than that short story you were so fond of five years ago!
By all means, re-use good plots and fascinating characters. After all, nothing much has changed in the ever-popular Pantomime stories, has it? But a new angle, a different point of view or an alternative setting will always freshen your stories, for yourself, your fellow writers and the judges!
I have a Literary Quiz for you this month. A bit like Countdown, it involves letters and numbers! It can be done individually, with a writing buddy or at a group meeting. Have a go!