I posted my Annual Writing Review a while back, and it made me realize how much value there is in assessing what I’ve written.
If writing is, as John Updike says, “nothing less than the subtlest instrument for self-examination and self-display that mankind has invented,” then reviewing it, revisiting the old projects, can tell us a lot about ourselves during that time.
I’m not alone in thinking this. I’ve read many essays from authors on their writing, and many of them talk about reading their old work and asking, did I write that? Like keeping a journal and rereading the high school bits and being totally aghast that you were ever that dramatic. I mean, really?
I thought it would be interesting to see what novel projects I’ve kept over the years. Unfortunately, when I moved abroad the first time, I cleared out a lot of old stories, not knowing how awesome it is to receive inspiration from the past, so much of the old, old stuff is gone. I was clearing out a lot of mental clutter and emotional junk at that time, and many things that should not have been forgotten were lost (did I just quote LOTR? oh yeah I did).
Regardless, in perusing the old stuff I did have, I came across some amazing things. I mean, a lot of it is trash, of course, half-ideas and flat characters and nothing more than a few words of an embryo of an idea. But there was some good stuff in there too, surprisingly. Stuff I’d like to revisit in future.
- A story about a half-tree man, a moon child, and some boy (probably only there to be romantic, the bugger)
- A story about the war between angels and demons and two kids caught up between them, very allegorical, very dark, very Inferno-esque
- A girl who locks herself in a tower and befriends the dragon (original at the time, since writing it oh, seven years ago, I have seen the same idea a dozen times)
- A story about people whose destiny is just to die – as in meaningless deaths, very nihilistic, never fleshed out
- A story set in a crooked house that leans from a windy hill in Peru – sometimes just the image is enough to get me an idea
- “Little green policemen in little yellow suits wave little purple guns and shout their little shouts. They pitter patter after plagiarists, creeping into their brains and stealing back stolen ideas.” I have no idea why I wrote this down. Plagiarism police? Was I messing about with alliterations? No idea.
- A world with everyday gods, like the god of parking. This was before I read Pratchett, who has his Small Gods which are very like what I had in mind. And American Gods, of course, touches on the idea as well.
- A story about a girl who is a phoenix. Also not original, but my opening line is pretty good.
- A story about houses with minds, who get up and follow their owners. I still love this idea.
- A story about a girl who is queen of the hounds, based pretty much entirely off the book Prince of Dogs by Kate Elliott. (I read the book as a teen and thought it was pretty amazing. I wonder what I would think of it now…)
- A story about a girl who can see sounds as things (the idea got totally ripped off by a Kdrama years later. I should sue!)
- A story about people who fish among the stars. But for what? And why? And how would that even work?
- A story about a society lost in the present time, when things moved but time did not
As I was doing this all-around read, I noticed certain themes, images, or types of story that showed up repeatedly. At some point, I’ll sit down to go through this and try to figure out what story I keep wanting to tell.
- Hidden things
- Sleeping beasts awakening – the darkness inside of us, like animals, waiting to burst forth from their cages and cause us to do terrible things
- Transformations, mostly to bad and gruesome
- Vivid images – a lot of these earlier pieces I wrote when I was also making a lot of art, and images and contrasts were particularly appealing to me. I would see an image in my mind and note it, either as a picture I wanted to paint or a story I wanted to write. The two blended and became inseparable.
- Folktale/Myth – many of my ideas take the form of folk stories or myths. I have always loved that genre, and I feel like it’s a more joyful kind of fantasy, even when it’s dark. I don’t really know how to describe it. Maybe because it generally takes place kind of in the real world, but makes it magic. It has its own vitality that is of a different quality than fantasy set in new worlds. I love all fantasy, epic, folk, dark; but there will always be a special place in my heart for folklore.
- Melancholy – a lot of my writing comes from the darker places of my heart and mind, those places I don’t get to show the world. So then they come out in stories, where I try to work them out. Most of my ideas have violence, anger, terror in them somewhere. They aren’t tragic; I usually envision happy endings, but that too is a kind of working-out of my demons. I want my own life to end up happy, so my characters must. Or at least, until I grow up.
- Moonlight – moonlight and starlight feature in a lot of my ideas. I don’t know that there’s a reason for that, but I will say that I have always loved the moonlight more than the sunlight. Sunlight hurts my eyes (I have lighter eyes and pretty bad light sensitivity), and so moonlight has always felt friendlier.
There was a lot more. A lot more dross, a lot more golden eggs. I had more than I realized when I set out on the endeavor. You know how you make folders within folders within folders on a computer? Well, every time I started writing again I would put all the old stuff in a folder marked (old) or (archives) or something. Turns out I have a lot of subfolders within my big writing folder.
But it was nice, overall, to go over everything. It was nice to be inspired. It was nice to know that I wrote some pretty decent stuff when I was younger. It gives me hope for my future.
If you’re a writer, have you ever looked back over all the old stories?