How late is too late?

We all have old, half-finished manuscripts lying around. Some of them are even a full first draft that we never finished editing. I’m currently sitting on two significantly aged stories, ones which I wrote quite a handful of years ago. Their levels of completion mean that I’m not totally open to abandoning them entirely, but time has been cruel to these two, and I can see just how damn young I was when I wrote them.

Growth as a person will give anyone a new perspective on life, and make us create new situations, new characters in our work. Expansion in knowledge means that years down the track, you start wondering, “How did I ever think this was a good idea?”, or, “How didn’t I see that plot hole when I wrote this?”. And the dreaded knowledge that the work isn’t marketable until it has had a total overhaul, potentially to the point of changing genre (you never were a sci-fi writer, after all).

When do we decide that a project has served its purpose and it is better to leave it in the fond depths of our memory? How much work is too much to revive an old story?

The way I see it, as long as you have ideas, there’s always something salvageable in a piece. Maybe not any of the words you wrote before. Maybe that entire draft has to be scrapped. But a draft isn’t the story; it’s just the things you scrabble at until you’ve carved something beautiful. If you still have passion for the story all this time later, then it’s worth it. It’s not really any more work than a new story. You already know where you went wrong the first time!

One day, I’d like to bring out the old works and make them into something amazing. With new knowledge, with greater understanding, with entirely new ideas and a whole reason to write. If you know where the story can go, and you know what the characters will do, you can remake the manuscript.

~A

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6 thoughts on “How late is too late?

  1. Two of my first handful of songs, written when I was in 6th or 7th grade over a decade ago, have received serious revisions in the past couple years. The first play I ever wrote (in 9th grade) got a major overhaul just before I attempted to get it produced at my school two years ago. All three of those works are much better for it, & I’m glad I was able to fix them instead of having to dismiss them.

    One of my screenplays, a long-frozen effort that I never can get both opportunity & inspiration to line up for, was actually totally revamped twice before becoming what it is (or what it’s trying to be, at least) now. And what it is now will WORK, if I can ever manage to finish it, but what it was before would not have worked.

    Some of my old songs or outlines, however, are long gone. I looked back at them years later & realized they were abject crud. I wouldn’t call them worthless–anything that teaches me what NOT to do can’t be worthless–but they were definitely unsalvageable.

    1. An excellent point; nothing artistic goes to waste, because it should all serve as practice and give you something to learn from the effort and the subjective failure. 😉 It’s awesome that you can see a direction for that one screenplay. I hope you get the chance to finish it, now!

      ~A

  2. Sometimes, I think a story or idea just isn’t ready to be told. Sometimes we have to grow as writers or people in order to tell it. Other times, the idea isn’t great, but there’s a kernel there that may be reused.

    I returned to a world I built in high school which I put away for about ten years. I had to because I knew it was missing something. Ultimately, I figured out it was just me who was missing something.

    1. Definitely. Sometimes we have all the wrong ways of looking at something until we’re a little wiser. Or a lot wiser. It seems like every story has a chance to be something great, so long as the right version of “you” is the one telling it! And here’s to revisiting our old worlds, places we just weren’t ready for when we were that young and inexperienced. 😀

      ~A

  3. I’m really enjoying rewriting the stories I’ve dredged up from the past. At the time, I remember thinking they were dead ideas, or I just simply didn’t know where they were going. A lot has changed in my life, I have grown as a person, and indeed, these changes have altered and bettered my abilities as a writer… So now, years after the fact, these tales are experiencing not a second life, but the life I’m sure they were always meant to live. I just wasn’t in the right ‘place’ to finish them back then. Good blog!

    1. It looks like there is always something worth pulling from the “wreckage” of stories past! Even when a rewrite includes a major overhaul on the themes or genre, we can still catch sight of that glimmer of awesomeness that made us start writing them in the first place.

      ~A

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