Hey guys. Sorry my post is a bit later than usual today. I’ve just spent the past few hours doing something kind of embarrassing: Reading Renaissance Lab. That’s right—I was reading my own book.
I wasn’t reading with the aim to edit, either. In fact, this was one of those times I was trying very hard not to edit. I was reading the book as I hope readers would: That is, I was reading it for fun.
I end up feeling smarmy and narcissistic every time I read my old work for my own enjoyment. Part of me feels like I’ll never be a good writer if I think I’m a good writer. Instead I should leave what I’ve already done behind me and focus on trying to do an even better job on the next thing.
Narcissism aside, it’s also nearly impossible to ignore the overwhelming urge to edit finished projects, even if I’m reading an article or blog post that published years ago. A typo will scream, “How did you manage to make TWO errors in a 250-word article?!” and I’ll feel that mix of anger at myself and irritation with the editors of the world that perfectionist journalists come to know so well.
On top of all that, another voice adds to the chorus of discouragement and says that reading over old work is just a waste of time. Why not read a book by someone else—a book I might actually learn something new from?
But still, I continue to read over my long since finished stories. Reading over something I wrote in high school helps me to appreciate the improvements I’ve made since now and then. I can see the mistakes I made, and better decide if I’m still making them.
Reading a book I haven’t worked on for months helps me to see with the eyes of a reader rather than a writer. One of my very favorite feelings is to look at a piece of my writing and not recognize it as mine; when I can read the story just as I would read one on a shelf, or in my work as a reader.
This distance brings me a glorious sense of objectivity and I can better recognize what really works about the story and what doesn’t. I do sometimes find myself laughing at my own jokes and becoming invested in the characters’ stories as though I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Maybe that is arrogant. I don’t know.
But I do think frequently reading over my old work has helped me to become a better writer. Particularly with Renaissance Lab, rereading it reminds me to cultivate certain seeds I planted there when I write future books.
And narcissistic though it can feel, I think it’s important to be able to look back and enjoy your own writing. It’s one of the biggest reasons we write, after all: To be able to see the things that previously only existed in our heads out in the world.
Your readers should enjoy your writing, but so should you.