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Why You Should Revise Your Old Writing Projects

As I write this, I’m listening to the new album from my favorite band, U2. This album is a bit different from their past work. Instead of full-blown, electric, rock and roll arrangements, the album features stripped-down, acoustic-centered music. For another, it doesn’t include any new songs. Instead, it’s a compilation of re-imagined versions of 40 of their songs.

Titled Songs of Surrender, the album takes U2 fan favorites and deep cuts and transforms them with new arrangements and lyrics. In this exploration of their history, the latest versions of the songs are less rock and roll and sparser and more somber, almost lament-like in quality.

Given the widespread war and conflict we are experiencing as a culture, it is a fitting reinterpretation of their work.

“Music allows you to time travel,” guitarist The Edge, who produced the album, said in a press release on the band’s website in January. “What started out as an experiment quickly developed into a personal obsession as so many of our songs yielded to a new interpretation. Intimacy replaced post-punk urgency. New tempos, new keys, and in some cases new chords and new lyrics arrived. A great song, it turns out is kind of indestructible.”

This is a brilliant way to look at art in general. Nothing is destructible. Visual artists can reinvent the media they create. Plays and musicals are given new interpretations every time they are performed. Musicians have always covered and reinterpreted the music of other people.

And, of course, the work of writers can be reinvented, too.

Art is always a product of the time it’s created in, but it’s best experienced both forward and backward. We can enjoy its first iteration while appreciating what it means in the present.

That doesn’t just apply to published, finished works, however. We need to see past projects we’ve worked on in the same way.

It’s easy to dismiss what you wrote years ago as the product of inexperience and immaturity. I feel it—the novel I wrote as my senior creative writing project in college makes me want to cry. I know so much more now than I did.

But those projects we’re quick to dismiss were watershed moments for us at one time. They were markers of new skill levels and understanding of the writing craft. They shouldn’t be belittled or dismissed. I’d argue that they, like U2’s beloved songs, deserve a reimagining.

Here are some reasons why revising your old writing can be valuable to your work in the present.

You Know Yourself Better

Forget about rewriting and revising for just a minute. Simply rereading this work can take you on a trip down memory lane that shows you have far you’ve come.

It can be a refreshing act of mindfulness to read old stories and notice where you’ve grown as a person. They may contain emotions you’ve left behind, including areas of old sadness and anger that have since been resolved.

In reviewing my old journals and notes about my work, I’ve even recalled situations that caused a lot of difficulty for me back then that I’d completely forgotten, even though they were challenging at the time.

The passage of time causes us to see things so differently that revisiting past work can be a powerful cognitive exercise for seeing where we’ve been and where we’ve ended up.

You’ve Grown as a Writer

Revising your old work becomes especially important when you look back at previous projects and see them in light of how your skill has developed. Even if you find the execution to be laughable, chances are that there is something in the original idea that is worth remaking.

You may even discover that problems with the original version are easily solved now that time and practice have given you the tools to do so. For example, you may see how to patch up an issue with the storyline, or life experience may have provided an idea for developing characters.

Even the greatest writers aren’t immune to the beauty that can come from reworking old material. The last story Flannery O’Connor ever wrote, “Judgment Day,” was a reimagining of her first published story, “The Geranium.”

Years of experience with reading and writing can give you what you need to see your old stories and essays with new eyes and revise them to a completed form.

The World is a Different Place

It isn’t just your life that has changed since you created your old writings. The world has, too.

A while back, I reread the novel I wrote in high school. I wrote it in 2000, and as such, there are no smartphones and no social media. I couldn’t help but think about how different the book would be if I’d written it today.

Honestly, I don’t think the idea would work as well. If I were to revise it, I’d keep the early 2000s as the setting, but I’m sure that my knowledge of the very different world we live in today would still help shape my revision of how the time period informs the story.

You may also find inspiration for your revision in current events. I’m not saying that you should revise your story so it takes place during the pandemic or the war in Ukraine. But the emotion and natural drama of these events might offer you some ideas about how to develop the story further.

Need Ideas About How to Revise an Old Project?

Just because a project is older and no longer reflects your writing skills doesn’t mean you should dismiss it outright. If you aren’t sure about how to proceed, schedule a Zoom consultation with me to talk about it.

I’ll connect with you for a free 30-minute call to discuss where your project is currently and brainstorm some ideas for where you might want to take it next.

Click here to learn more about this free service and schedule your consultation.

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