Have you ever seen those “Draw This Again” challenges some artists do? They’ll take an old piece of art they did several years ago and redraw it to show how much they’ve improved over the years. Depending on how far back they go, the improvements could be minor—they practiced their shading and colouring, or have improved in the way they draw hair—or it can be staggering, as if two completely different people drew the art before you. It’s a way for the artist to show her fans—and herself—how she’s improved.
Some people can’t stand the idea of looking at old work. Even if you’re sitting in a room all by yourself, the embarrassment that comes with how bad at something you used to be is enough to drive you to burn that stuff rather than relive it. But looking back isn’t really a bad thing.
I’ve been rather nostalgic lately.
There was a period of time where I was in a group of very beginner writers back in high school. We had this whole established universe together, each of us writing stories for it, and sometimes characters from one story would appear in another. Entire arc would revolve around the cooperation of two groups. There was romance, drama, grand reveals, plucky heroes, and awe-inspiring villains.
Well, at the time there was. I look back to it now and I see a huge mess: plotlines that made no sense, romances that were unhealthy, characters with no more than two personality traits, convoluted “chosen one” destinies, villains who were villains for the sake of being evil and used some of the worst, most cliché names for their organizations. And the grammar. Oh, the grammar.
I was not a very good writer back then. I do not miss my terrible prose or my lack of grammatical skills or my inability to write believable characters. I look back on some of my old ideas and am appalled at how anyone could think they were good.
But I look fondly back on the interaction, and how excited we were to be sitting around discussing out characters and stories and offering each other encouragement, even if we secretly thought the other person was completely insane. Obviously, we weren’t the type to critique, or the type who really wanted to be critiqued.
And as much as it makes me cringe, I did go back and look at some of my old characters, and my old writing. I read through it, and slowly, piece by piece found little things. Ideas that, while not entirely thought out, were still decent. Characters who could be improved on. Little things that I could take and place into new stories. Better stories.
And sometimes the story itself wasn’t bad, just a little misguided.
So, maybe we writers should do our own challenge. A “Write This Again” challenge. Take that crappy short story you wrote in sixth grade. Expand on it. Rewrite it.
And when you’re done, take old and new and read them both.
It’s amazing how far you’ve come.