April 14th, 2013

Revising Old Stuff--I Remember It A Lot Better Than It Was

I've written a lot over the last ten to fifteen years, and a lot of the short stories I wrote made the rounds of the science fiction magazines, then went into limbo when nobody bit on them. Writers call stories like that "trunk stories," as in you put the manuscript in a trunk and start out hoping that some new market opens up, but as your writing skill increases you probably end up hoping nobody digs through your stuff after you die and publishes this stuff.

A couple of times in the last year I've gotten out trunk stories and reread them, thought they were pretty good and maybe just needed a little tweaking.

In both cases, that's where things started to fall apart. Once I started editing, the stories fell apart in my hands. I kept noticing more and more that needed to be changed--more depth for characters, more solid details for the scene settings, more logical plot development. Eventually I ended up spending more time revising than it would have taken to write the story from scratch, and I would have ended up with a story at my current skill level instead of something that is midway between my writing skill now and my writing skill when I wrote the story.

The moral of that story isn't quite that you should never go back and try to salvage a trunk story. Sometimes you do have a good idea that needs just a little tweaking to be great. Most times though, you'll probably be better off writing new stuff.