Welcome to the monthly Insecure Writer’s Support Group post. This month’s question is the following:
For how long do you shelve your first draft, before reading it and re-drafting? Is this dependent on your writing experience and the number of stories/books under your belt?
This is a complicated question to answer. A quick look through my archive shows that I have well over a hundred poems, three dozen short stories, partial or complete drafts of five novels, and a score or more of creative nonfiction pieces, essays, and research projects, all awaiting my attention. These works range in age from a couple of days to over three decades.
How long I shelve a draft depends entirely on the time I have available to revisit previous work and the level of energy I have when I have the time. Time and emotional energy do not often coincide, so a first draft which I complete at a furious pace may sit on my drive untouched and gathering virtual dust for years.
To date, I have published one short story and three poems. I completed the final draft of the short story three years after I wrote the first draft. The poems were about two years old when I sent them out into the wild. I sent each piece out to at least half a dozen magazines before they were accepted, and in some cases I subjected the piece to another round of edits after a rejection.
I don’t think writing experience plays into the amount of time a piece stays on the shelf. I have been writing off and on for thirty years, and I therefore have some pieces which have been gathering dust for thirty years. And I am not the same person I was when I wrote some of those older pieces. And the world is not the same as it was when I wrote stories and poems in response to specific events and ripples in the zeitgeist. A politically charged poem which was objectively good but very of-the-moment may never see the light of day again, unless events repeat themselves, or at least rhyme closely enough that the poem is meaningful again.
Currently I am editing a short story which started its life as a chapter from a literary fiction book I wrote during NaNoWriMo 2018. Three or four other chapters in that book could work as standalone short stories. And I still intend to complete and revise the book, so the work I do on the short stories derived therefrom will in turn benefit the completed text somewhere down the road.
I consider a backlog of shelved work to be a sign of a healthy writing habit. If an old piece is not worth revisiting, it can be considered a storehouse of ideas and memories which can be pulled out and remixed to create something new. But it is important to reread your old work from time to time. Doing so can put you mind in a place similar to where it was when you first created the work. It can remind you of what was going on in your life when you wrote the piece. And when you reread you can see how much you have progressed as a writer from the day you first put those words on paper. You can be your own inspiration.
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