Presently I’ve been ‘wrastling’ with a book that I’ve tried writing on and off for years. In unearthing what I had for it, I found as much good stuff as bad, pages of passages I now cringe reading as much those that come to sing anew with a few tweaks. Rereading and reworking the manuscript has also inspired me to write new stuff for the story, and for the first time in a long while, I feel I might be able to finish the book.
As I advised in another column, sometimes it’s a good idea to put something away that you may have been spinning your mental wheels over. Sure, there is something to be said for slogging through, to muscling the words, to just strapping yourself to your desk and not standing up and away from it until you have ejaculated a thousand words. This is where the actual work of your writing job comes in.
But there are equally those opuses (is it opus’i’?) we do well to put away for a while, but for the point, I am making here, get back to after a while.
Sometimes we do not have the skill just yet to tackle the thing as well as it needs. Sometimes (as was the case with me as the piece I was trying to work was a memoir), we need perspective, more time away from when the events occurred. Other times, we need to take ourselves from the middle of something to see it clearer, and yes, we even must miss it a little bit.
Don’t be surprised, though, that in looking back, you realize you do not need this stuff anymore, and you take to emptying the old closet (or desktop file) for good. This is the other side of the coin with stepping back and giving something another look; you maybe have hidden this old stuff away for a perfect reason and never got around to throwing it away. Sometimes what you find you said a hell of a lot better in another way, at another time. There is something to be said for purging that which has stuck in the back of your mind, on your desktop or in your nightstand pad for years that you simply will never use or have tackled better in another way.
I don’t have a clear-cut answer of how to deal with your old dreck exactly, or even when you should. But I do know that sometimes there is value in giving the unfinished, the cast-off, the stuff that has aggravated you into submission, another try after a time. Just as you can reread one of your most favorite books and come to some new conclusion about them when rereading it years later, or have a different reaction to a song or movie decades after your first encountered it, so to can you have a different reaction to something you attempted to write years before.