Your Words on Other Pages

This week I received galley proofs for a 20 page political essay, printed out the pages and started blue-penning the thing.

I wrote the story a year ago — about an experience that occurred a year before that, a few months into the Obama presidency — and now here it is and I’m running my eyes across phrases and a story I barely recognize.  Did I really write this?  Are the scenes out of order?  This opening is not the right opening.  Does this story, two years on, even matter anymore?  I’m itching to rewrite the whole damned thing.

I want to rewrite it, but of course I can’t.  I’m just the fixer.  My words, my story, don’t belong to me anymore.

What happens when you see your thoughts on paper, months or years later?

13 thoughts on “Your Words on Other Pages

  1. catherine

    The other week I was writing an essay on agility in writing and wanted to compare my own comic and literary work. I took out the first story I ever published, called ‘Elton John’s Mother’ and published in a review and then an anthology when I was a new mother in Mogadishu many many moons ago. I was surprised that the story still held good. I was expecting to cringe and crawl away, but I had a sad laugh and enjoyed the piece. I’m sure your writing and analysis are still valid too, but yes political statements probably change with the sway of the times. Don’t fret! Send it out there and get back to new, invigorating work (says cat who is STILL working through never-ending novel corrections with stringent editor)

      1. catherine

        Maybe I am being foolish for bringing it out but I put ‘Elton John’s Mother’ up on my short story blog Be kind! I was a very young woman still half-anchored in Australia and steeped in new-mother-land in an almightily hot country. But it came out in an issue of Australian Short Stories and was then chosen for the anthology Fabulous at Fifty – Fifty of the Best, with some well-known Australian authors!

  2. erikamarks

    Oh, do I ever know the feeling! Honestly, Teri, I cringe. I do this thing where I pretend my words belong to someone else–I can still be insanely critical of them, but I can enjoy them too. Otherwise, if I see them as mine, I want to rewrite EVERYTHING. Like Catherine says, send them back–then celebrate, I say.

    1. Teri

      Erika — off subject, but remember this past winter when we were all talking about classics we hadn’t read? I believe you and I agreed to read something together this summer. But for the life of me I can’t remember what it is! Any clues? Maybe MIDDLEMARCH, or something like it??

      1. Lyra

        It was MIddlemarch. I only remember because it is my very, very favorite and I was curious if you would like it.
        I read it and then promptly read every other Eliot book including all of her essays.

  3. lisahgolden

    I think you’ve nailed one of the many reasons I’m sitting on a couple of WIPs like a hen on her eggs. I’m not ready to give my words away.

    I really need to get over that.

    1. Teri

      I agree with Cat in that there are a few short pieces I’ve written and still like, years later. But this current story. Ugh. Not so much. And I remember being all fired up about it when I was writing. I’m thinking now that the politics themselves must have been the kicker, and not my take on it. Hmmm.

      Keep sitting on those eggs, Lisa. You’ll know when they’re ready.

  4. macdougalstreetbaby

    I have been known to rip pages out of my notebooks when I revisit past words or stories. My biggest fear is that after I’m gone my trite, unimaginative, and silly feelings will become my monument. I would rather nothing be there than something empty.

    1. Averil Dean

      I just did the same thing with my blog, MSB. I ripped out several months’ worth of old blog entries–I took out everything that didn’t sound like me, as though my blog is an actual piece of work that needed pruning.

      It’s awful to look at old writing, Teri. And by old, I mean anything beyond the past six months, at any given point in time.

  5. Lyra

    I look back and for the most part it’s as if someone else wrote them. Sometimes I disagree vehemently with this other person.
    I think it has to do for me having my thoughts subject to change. I think something 100% until I hear a solid argument for something else. Usually my opinions end up a mishmash of the best of the knowledge I have heard.
    I’d make a lousy politician. I have the diehard belief that things can always be amended for the better if only we were listening to everyone.

  6. Laura

    When I get proofs for a story, I immediately want to trash/rewrite the whole thing. Who did I think I was, believing this deserved to be published?? But of course, at this point in the process, there’s not much to do. I proof it and send it back and try to forget about it. I almost never read it when it comes out in print. I just can’t bear it.

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