This week I’ve been playing the part of administrator rather than writer. Through the process of organising and tidying I have come across many fragments of writing scattered throughout various folders – some are “on hold”, though most have been abandoned. Generally my rule is: if a piece remains unfinished for several months it gets moved to the Reject folder. Why a reject folder? Why not just eliminate them entirely, send them to the trash? This system allows me to follow my own progress as a writer. I’ve kept rejects from as long as twenty years ago to remind myself that I have improved and can only continue to improve by continuing to write. Shamefully, my rejects folder contains two fizzled short stories and six abandoned novels. I would never show these to anyone else, but I get a kick out revisiting them every few years.
As a writer it is important to be able to review your own work objectively. If you can identify good writing in others, you can identify it in your own work. Likewise you should be able to identify weaker pieces. Here are a few tips:
- Don’t allow yourself to be timid about reading your own work, even if it is old work
- Be clear about your reasons for reviewing a piece (ie, for your own amusement, for the sake of tracking your progress, because you’re looking for a piece to publish)
- Remove yourself from the writing space if it helps. Hardcopies are easy to transport, but electronic copies may require the use of a different computer
- Don’t allow yourself to make corrections – not even in the punctuation or spelling. The idea is to review the work, not edit it
- Mark what you think works and what doesn’t
- Read until the end
- Now ask yourself the following questions:
- would I like/dislike this work if someone else had written it?
- how would I feel showing this work to someone else?
- how do I feel about destroying/keeping this piece?
I have just applied this strategy to something I wrote about twelve years ago and the answer was surprising. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, but more importantly I was able to see how I had improved in the years since.