The Good and Bad Sides of Improvement

In the past six months, and especially in the past two or three, my writing has jumped ahead several notches. I think this is less a matter of becoming better or more fluent at putting words on the page, and more a matter of improving my critical eye’s ability to perceive my own work. That is, I’m able to see more clearly what’s working and what’s not, and what needs to be changed in order to execute on the page the idea that exists in my head.

This is a good thing in most ways. The new stories I begin are much better than what I’ve written before, and I’ve been able to make significant changes and improvements to “stuck” stories that I’ve had in progress for a while.

If there’s a downside, it’s that every time I take another look at an earlier story I’d considered “finished,” I find so many things I want to change that I’m afraid to reopen old stories for fear of never getting anything done on new ones.

I do realize this is a good problem to have. I’m getting better. I’m sharpening the skills that will make more stories more effective and help get them out into the world. But I’m really not sure what to do about this. Do I pull all my earlier stories out of circulation and trunk them until I have time to go over them again? Do I keep sending them out, even knowing that I could probably improve them now, and certainly could do a better job writing the story from scratch if I just started over?

I’ve probably (OK, definitely) already wasted too much time in the past six months re-working old, flawed stories. The effort hasn’t been entirely wasted, because I’ve learned a lot about the mechanics of a broken story. I’m better at spotting a story with a protagonist who coasts through without risk or real motivation, or a front-loaded plot that just trails off. Part of this recently learning experience is because of all that “wasted” time. Sometimes I think, though, that once I’ve diagnosed the problem, I might be better off just starting a new story than trying to figure out a way to retrofit the current set of characters, settings and actions into something more suitable.

One thing that really does bother me is that I’ve been very good about immediately re-submitting rejected stories without second-guessing them, delaying, or looking for reasons not to send them out again. I think that’s a good trait to have, and I kind of wish I could shut off this sense I have that it might be better to reel these ten or so finished pieces back in and rework all of them.

Not exactly looking for answers here, just venting a little.

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