The Good, the Bad and the Cringy: Re-Reading What You’ve Written

Ready for some of the worst writing experience I’ve ever had the privilege of going through? I’m not.

The Good

You might catch something you’ve forgotten to put down in the original draft, and now you get to fix it! See? Easy. (You just have to be able to remember what it was you wanted to write in the first place.)

You might end up discovering it’s really not that bad altogether. Hey, it does happen.

You might remember follow-up detail to add in a latter story. If you’re writing sequels, that is. But even inside a single novel, there might be loose ends hanging out there in the copy, and re-reading will help.

It’ll make it easier to talk to readers about your work. (Because I’m already at that point where my partner remembers my own characters’ backgrounds better than me). Readers are notorious for remembering more than a lot of writers ever could, and they’ll probably appreciate if you actually knew what they were talking about when they told you about a section or a detail or an idea they loved. Sometimes, it’s not even the ‘big’ ideas, but little snippets of everyday life you’ve somehow managed to include in your copy, and they’ll notice it, and they’ll appreciate it—even though, oftentimes, you have no idea what the hell they’re talking about.

(Almost) everybody needs to edit. Wait, why’s this listed under the good stuff? It’s the absolute worst! But, it’s basically impossible to avoid, so we might as well accept it etc. etc.

The Bad

You’ll have to face your own bad writing. You might not even remember why you wrote that complete shit, but you’ll have to stare it in the face and keep your cool. Yes, you could’ve been having a bad day when you wrote it. Yes, you might’ve been running on too little sleep and too much enthusiasm. Yes, your dog might’ve kept you up all night before you woke up to write that awful, awful scene. And you call that a dialogue? Raise your head up high, loosen up your shoulders and keep. on. working. Fix it if it’s broken, have a friend read it and tell you their honest judgement about it if you think it’s beyond broken. Hopefully, it’ll only be a short fragment—and everybody’s entitled to a little bit of bad writing in their copy.

There’s nobody else to yell at (when it’s your copy and your mistakes), unlike when you’re reading other people’s drafts. I do try not to yell at the possible other writers, too—I don’t always manage. Some people are more critical of their own writing, some, on the other hand, of other people’s prose. Either way, accept the fact that you’ve screwed up and write on. There’s no need to put yourself down—the rest of the world will usually be more than obliging.

It might be so bad you need to push yourself through to let it go out there. I’m quite aware that there are people who think letting novels simmer for a little while longer (how long, exactly?) is acceptable, but, having waited years already, I’m not that sure I have it in me to wait anymore. When I read something of mine, sometimes I literally have to stop myself from giving up on the text altogether. (That’s why I don’t read my stuff, unles revising or following up with important detail. You know, whether someone’s a born or a bitten werewolf etc. Nope, couldn’t be bothered to remember, for some of the characters.) Giving up, in my humble experience, hurts way more than letting something ‘imperfect’ out there. Let it go. Write another novel.

You won’t neccessarily have the stamina to fix evertything. Sentences you’ve left hanging mid-line might be easy to finish off (if, of course, you can divine what you wanted to say), but broken and missing plotlines are the absolute worst. Practice—years of practice—does make it easier to carry all the sub-plots to the end, and make some sense of it all in general, but still… ungh.

The Cringy

We better face it: the cringe factor is real, and there’s nothing we can do about it. Deal with it. Write on. Everybody learns as we go.

Sometimes (oftentimes) you’ll catch mistakes after something’s already in print. And what the hell do you do then? Well, for starters, you accept that life is short. If you’re lucky enough to be able to re-publish the story in question, by all means, go for it! And if it’s a reader out there who points out a mistake to you, gently or not, accept it with a healthy dose of humor, thank them, and note what you’ve done wrong so you don’t, say, invent brand new geographical regions again like (khm) some of us have done, in futher stories.

You’ll realize that years gone by sometimes do matter. A lot of us wrote through their teens (and earlier!) and still have the copy to cringe over. A lot of us have put personal stuff into our writing, stuff we might not include if we were writing at this point in time, with a healthy dose of distance. Sometimes I try to comfort myself by simply stating that I was young. Well, I was. Doesn’t stop me from wishing I’d written things differently…

You’ll realize you’re only human. The same as absolutely every writer—and reader—out there on the planet. And humans make mistakes, so…

Write on. Your readers will thank you.

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Photo by Quentin Dr on Unsplash.