What You Can Learn by Re-Reading Past Writing

 

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Most writers I know are reluctant to go back in time to read things they wrote a long time ago. I don’t usually like to do that either. I figure I’ve already looked at that piece so many times and completed so many editing passes, that by the time it gets published, I’m sick of looking at it. I’m so relieved when I can finally move on to the next project that I gladly put it out of my mind.

So why are writers reluctant to re-read old published works (or in the case of unpublished writers, completed or semi-completed works)?

Perhaps they fear that they won’t like what they read, that it will confirm their suspicions that they are indeed a bad writer. Or maybe it’s a different kind of feeling – that the work is better than they imagined — or at least it will be once they tweak it here and there.

Author Adam O’Fallon Price writes in The Millions:

“A writer could go through their whole life accumulating work and publications without ever, in earnest, going back and looking at what they’ve done with a reader’s eye. And if you never revisit your old work, you may never fully understand how, or if, you’ve changed as an artist and person.”

I bring this subject up because I’ve spent the past couple of weeks re-reading unpublished essays and half-completed manuscripts that were hidden in my desk drawer. Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours re-reading the first three chapters of a romance novel I started writing a couple of summers ago which I set aside to pursue other projects. I thought I was done with that romance novel. After reading it, now I’m not so sure.

I look at these pieces now, and I’m amazed at what I’ve accomplished. Even old blog posts from several years ago and magazine features I’ve written for a client give me a boost of confidence.

With so much time passed, I can look at each of those pieces with a clear head and an objective eye. What have I learned from this practice?

I’ve learned that I’m a pretty good writer. That my magazine client thinks I’m proficient enough to publish my work. That my blog posts are clearly written and provide practical advice to help my writing peers. That even if I never get that romance novel published, I can be proud of my accomplishment.

Likewise, what can you learn by going back and re-reading what you’ve written long ago? I’m not talking about your current work-in-progress, or the essay you finished last week. I’m talking about writing from a year ago, five years ago, or even things you wrote in college.

How can re-reading your old works benefit your writing today? Here are a few reasons.

  • It can help you see how far you’ve come as a writer. The person who wrote that essay in college is not the same person who would write it today. You’ve matured as a person since then and perhaps you’ve learned more about the topic you wrote about. Perhaps as you gained more knowledge, you’ve changed your stance on that issue.

    Your writing skills are likely better now too, especially if you’ve been writing consistently or have taken writing classes. You may have started out with humble beginnings, but you can see that you’re a better writer now than you were then.

  • It can help you realize that you still have much to learn about the writing process. HealthWriterHub suggests reviewing old emails and projects so you can see recurring mistakes and bad habits. With so much time that has passed, it will be easier to spot those errors and fix them in your current writing. It’s also important to note your strengths, not just your weaknesses, so you can continue to improve.
  • Re-reading past works can affirm in your own mind that you are a good writer. By putting time and distance between yourself and a past work, you can review it as a reader would. Perhaps you realize your work isn’t as lousy as you feared it might be, and that there are many redeemable qualities to your writing that you can still build on for the future.

    Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank, says re-reading old works gives you a chance to savor your accomplishments, and it offers a list of questions to keep in mind when you review them. For example, would you write it differently now? What surprised you about the text? Did the voice sound authentic? By answering these questions, you can see ways that you can improve your writing.

  • You may notice opportunities for re-writing that old piece. You might re-read something from long ago and decide there are nuggets of good writing there. Perhaps you know more about the subject now to give it more substance. Or through your life experience, you can provide a different perspective. With the new knowledge and experience, you can bring added dimension to that piece that you did not have before.
  • You can decide if that older piece is worthy of being part of your portfolio. If it’s better than you remembered, you might decide to show it to prospective clients, or maybe just hang onto for your own self-enjoyment. Even if it isn’t the most current work or your best, it might be worth keeping just in case a future client or employer wants to see an example of different types of writing. You never know.

So the next time you’re tempted to toss out old stories, essays and written works from a decade ago, think again. They may still provide value to your writing experience.

Love to Read? Check Out These Book Review Websites

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February’s theme is “for the love of books.” 

Once you’ve finished reading one book, how do you decide what you will read next? For many readers, turning to online book review sites is the next best thing to getting a personal recommendation. These sites are especially appealing to those who prefer to read the latest releases. But it can be difficult to discern which of the newly published books are worthy of their time and money.

Book reviews – whether through an online review site or in a print publication – offers some perspective of what’s available. You’ll likely find two kinds of reviews: long-form reviews with a more thorough analysis of the book’s content written by a hired staff person or freelancer, and shorter reviews submitted by book fans, usually published on sites like Goodreads or Amazon.

There are more book review sites than ever before. The Internet and social media have made it possible to share opinions about the books we read more quickly and easily. I think this is in response to the growing number of newspapers and magazines that have downsized staffs and no longer have the resources to hire full-time book reviewers. Sites like Goodreads and BookRiot have successfully filled the void.

Book review sites have become a vital part of the publishing industry. Authors value them for providing an outlet to help them promote their books. My guess is that publishers like them too for a similar reason. These sites have created communities of readers from all parts of the world. They’re bringing the world together over a shared love of reading.

If you’re the type of reader who prefers to read the newest releases as soon as they come out, book review sites are the places to go to find out what is being published and by whom. If you’re the type of reader who likes being part of a reading community and likes learning about what other people are reading, book review sites can serve your needs well.

So what are the best places to go for book reviews? Here’s a rundown.

New York Publications — Most traditional book reviews are published by newspapers and magazines. The two that come to my mind are The New York Times and The New Yorker Page Turner section have extensive coverage of book reviews and literary criticism because, after all, New York City is where a good portion of the publishing action takes place. Most of these reviews are longer, more detailed pieces, so you can gain more thorough insight about new releases.

Goodreads — Several friends rave about Goodreads as the go-to source for everything-books. Read book reviews, keep track of books you want to read and find out what other people are reading. One of their highlights is their annual reading challenge. To participate, enter the number of books you plan to read in the coming year, then as you complete each one, update your tally to see your progress.

Kirkus Reviews – Launched in 1933, Kirkus Reviews is a book review magazine. Reviewing books is their forte, and they do it well. The magazine provides authoritative reviews of books weeks before they are released, and they offer a roundup of reviews for consumers in a weekly email that you can get delivered to your inbox. Kirkus also offers services to authors, such as marketing promotion and editing services.

Publishers Weekly – A publishing industry mainstay, Publishers Weekly covers industry news, author news, bestsellers, digital works and international. They also post publishing jobs and have a special section, BookLife, geared toward self-published authors.

Booklist Online – Geared toward librarians and libraries, Booklist is a publication of the American Library Association. But their Booklist Online site has reviews of adult and young adult fiction and nonfiction. They offer advice to librarians about what newly published books should be added to their collections. But their reviews can be helpful to any avid reader.

IndieBound.org – Geared toward independent bookstores and publishers as well as fans of indie books, IndieBound.org does a great job of supporting this niche industry. In addition to summarizing the latest independently published works, the site has a search feature so you can find an independent bookstore near you. There is no online shop at IndieBound.org because their goal is to get more people shopping at the nearest independent bookstore.

The Book Reporter – Operated by book fans, The Book Reporter provides reviews and news of the latest releases, but also posts their own guides for reading discussion groups.

The Millions – The online literary magazine covering the arts, culture and books. The Millions showcases new releases every week on Tuesday, which it calls New Release Day.

Book Riot – In addition to sharing book reviews on the latest releases, Book Riot posts a weekly podcast, All the Books, which is a roundup of book recommendations.

Bookbub – Fans of e-books will appreciate the Bookbub site for its news and reviews of e-books.

I’m sure there are many more online book sites you can explore. Don’t forget your local bookstore staff who are usually in tuned to the latest industry news and can recommend new authors and newly published works. There’s usually a staff recommendations section to browse as well.

Despite the many sources around, I still believe the best recommendations come from the people you know, whether that’s a sibling, a friend or your hair stylist. You can never go wrong with a personal recommendation.

So what about you? Where do you go to read book reviews and learn about the newest releases?