Ghosts of Stories Past, and A Spot of Casual Necromancy

In a sense, I’ve been writing for a long time. I started writing little stories for myself in grade school (mostly inspired by television), and by the time I got to high school I was writing short stories to pass around to my friends. I even wrote a few one-act plays that were performed. In college I wrote a couple short stories, a screenplay, and I got to work on an Epic Fantasy Novel, which consumed most of my creative energy for probably about six years.

And then I stopped, for years. A lot of it was that any time I sat down to write, I was writing a paper or working on my thesis. Learning to write academic papers involved unlearning a lot of the skills of fiction writing. Basically, writing lost most of its joy for me, and I found creative outlets elsewhere: cooking, programming, video games.

So in another sense, I’ve been writing for a very short time: I made a conscious push last summer to get serious about writing, try to reclaim the fun I’d had in creating stories. I got myself interested by writing mysteries, and forced myself to get real, professional feedback.

Well. For a long time, I had a habit of copying large portions of hard drive from one computer to the next upon upgrading. I’ve been doing this for years. Last night while looking for an old essay of mine (on the influence of the principles of Zen art on Miyamoto Musashi’s philosophy of strategy, which essay I still can’t find) I plugged in an older drive that I’d turned into a USB spare, and found on it a directory containing a whole bunch of stuff I wrote in college, even some stuff from high school!

A lot of the text is related to said EFN — and worse, notes for a prequel. That all, I suspect, is irredeemable. I might toss it all into a word processor to get a word count, but otherwise, I think it needs to, um, mature a little longer. That reminds me, that’s the weirdest thing about going back and looking at this stuff: the utter inattention to word count. I remember being obsessed over length (MOAR!), but all my notes on the subject refer to page count.

I dug up one that I dimly remembered having been good, and read through it, expecting to cringe. And I did cringe, but… not a lot. I mean, we are people of the world, so let’s not kid each other: I’d used adverbs like salt, it’s too wordy by half and many of those words are in cliches, most of the Dramatic Language is actually pretty hokey, and some of the characterization was awful, but you know what? There’s a real story under there. It’s got a decent opening hook (about a college professor who has begun to smell bad), builds tension at a surprisingly good rate, and has a serviceable story arc. I think I can do something with this.

So I’m going to give my 19-year-old self a much-belated Christmas gift: I’m going to scrape off the rust, then rework and polish this thing until I think it’s good, and submit it somewhere. I wouldn’t have professed to want it spared even a drop of red ink* and so red ink is what it will get. Besides, this is a golden opportunity to really let loose with those editing skills I’ve picked up at and since VP. It’s hard to get much more editorial distance than this.

Now I’m curious. Have any of you picked up a really old story and tried to make it work? Was it an excruciating experience? Did you enjoy it? Did you actually make it publishable?

* Like many teenage writers, I think I was more interested in being told “Oh, this is quite good! You’re some kind of prodigy and will be rich!” than getting actual criticism.

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