I’ve finally reached the age where I can look back and see how far I’ve come. Both in writing, and in the way I think.
I never understood when writers said they hated looking at old work. My first stories were full of imaginative worlds, and intense characters, and great moments that I cherished reading again and again. Why would I ever not enjoy these moments? Well. That day has finally come. And It’s not that I don’t enjoy my old stories, it’s that everything I was naive or outright wrong about now jumps out at me.
I want to share a few embarrassing examples. Why? Because we all have room to grow, and here’s some proof.
A few weeks ago, I read through a novel I had written in my early 20’s. I hadn’t read any of this story in about 3 years. I found lines of narrative and structures of plot suddenly leaping out in ways I had never intended.
For example, there were several moments when I had been unintentionally racist. The narrative stereotyped a non-white race, both in a positive light and negative. I had added characters as “tropes” instead of “people” and I think I know better now. I think recognizing what I did wrong is a huge step toward doing it right next time. We should all strive to show everyone’s humanity first and foremost in characterization.
Another example from the same book is a plot line where a character coerces another to sleep with them. It’s dubious consent at the least, and borderline rape if taken at face value, and I was seriously shocked by this scene and the subsequent reactions of other characters. I knew what I was writing six years ago and what it meant. But it comes across completely differently than I intended. Because the reader never sees the victim’s POV, the reader only sees the perpetrator feeling victimized at all of the other characters blowing up at them. I don’t even think I need to explain why this is all wrong. You definitely will not find me making this sort of mistake today.
My last example is from my upcoming debut, Y Negative. In the early versions of this novel, the main character’s injections gave him scars akin to something like a heroin addiction. I did this scientific error intentionally, as I wanted his scars to be symbolic of his will to survive. But early betas pointed out the error, and I realized very quickly that it wasn’t conveying what I wanted it to. Wisely, I decided it wasn’t worth keeping. That MC has lost the majority of the scars he had in draft one, but that’s okay. He didn’t need those scars to show his weakness, or his strength. His characterization shows the reader those things.
The moral of the story here is not to be wary of everything you write or anything like that – it’s to give your writing some space before you show it to other people, so you can look at it objectively. It’s to show it to betas before you try to shop it. And most importantly, strive every day to be better about the way you view the world and the people in it. It’s really easy to be unintentionally racist, or unintentionally sexist, or to ignore facts for want of “artistic value”. But we should always strive to be better than yesterday. Don’t feel bad if you’re wrong, or if your point didn’t get across. We’re all learning together to be better people to each other. I’m thankful that I can look back and see what I did wrong, because it tells me how far I’ve come.
And it hints at how far I still have to grow.
Thanks for reading.