“There is no destroying again,” answered Samantha. “You can only destroy something once.”
When you are a writer, you leave a lot of baggage lying around. You leave clues to your most embarrassing failures, those missteps that anyone else would hide safely in the closet right behind the Ab Roller (never used but once) and the fluorescent wrapping paper your kids begged you to buy one year. Writers don’t have that kind of luxury. Writers figure they can still squeeze value out of failures. “It’s all material,” we mutter. “Revise,” we mutter. We mutter as we to hunch over the keyboard with ten-year-old files struggling to format on the screen. Revise, revise, revise.
The thing about a ten-year-old-never-published novel? There’s probably a very good reason no editor ever gleefully clapped her hands and called me on the phone to offer me a million dollars for it. I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing when a manuscript has major problems. It’s my job. And while this particular manuscript, let’s use Albatross as a working title, isn’t as bad as I had built it up in my mind, it’s still weirdly bad. I wrote the thing AFTER earning a graduate degree, you’d think I’d have been…better. No. When one word would have sufficed, I used eight. When a character should have kept quiet and let the moment carry itself out, my character launched into an off-topic monologue that I supposed I thought was clever at the time.
What am I doing now that I feel so bloody confident about that I’ll look back on in ten years time and shudder at?
It’s like medicine. We all watch Downton Abbey and sigh with relief at modern dental care and standard issue air bags, but what will future generations sigh about when they watch period dramas that take place in the early 21st century? You know, on their mandatory mind chips. Which are installed at birth.
I dug out my own ten-year-old embarrassment in the hopes of salvaging some short stories from the 300 or so pages, virtual pages, taking up space on my hard drive. I may have found one or two that are worth the time and effort it will take to bring them up to code. It’s a good lesson. It’s a good reminder. No matter how good we think we are, there are ways to improve. There are more lessons. New discoveries. Deeper wrinkles.