Writing Tips

Help: I’ve Returned to an Old Piece of Writing, and I Can See Influences From My Past

Recently, I have truly enjoyed writing up my personal posts instead of focusing on writing or publishing tips. Sharing my story opened up a channel for me to hear your stories, and it was really nice getting to know more of you on a deeper level. If I continue this in the future, I hope to hear more from others. If you have an idea of a topic – any topic really – you can always comment below and suggest one. I will even credit your blog as the inspiration for the post. No matter what, thank you for reading and commenting. 

Today, though, I wanted to talk about a topic that is very much a personal twist on the writing spectrum. Yes, writing is always personal to the writer, but I wanted to discuss how certain writings can be influenced by a particular time in your life and/or how it can affect the writing process when you return to it later. The reason for this is simple: I’m currently going through it, and I wanted to talk about it in the hopes of reaching out to other artists who have experienced the same range of emotions I have,which include confusion, guilt, acceptance, and understanding.

If you follow my interviews, then you know I am already planning for which one of my novels will be published after Seconds Before Sunrise. (But I hope you’ll take a moment to check out Seconds Before Sunrise by clicking here.) Although readers might be expecting Death Before Daylight, I am moving towards publishing a new novel altogether before the last book of the trilogy. From this point on, I will be referring to this new novel as TMT.

When I went back to edit TMT, I found some surprises I wasn’t expecting:

There are some heavy influences that I could not see before. When I was originally writing it, I was in my freshman year of college. At the time, I could not see any correlations with my life in my science-fiction world. Now that I’ve been removed from the novel for a few years, I can interpret it more clearly. I can see old acquaintances in the characters. I can hear dialogue that sounds like a stranger I met. I can see where I mixed a scene together by blending a field by my dorm room and a forest by my old house. I can see my husky, Shadow, in the dog the protagonist cherishes.

This is Shadow - my buddy. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us, but he loved snow just as much as me.
This is Shadow – my buddy. Unfortunately, he is no longer with us, but he loved snow just as much as I do. (Probably more, of course.)

This was all unexpected, and – if I may be bold – difficult in many areas, because it brings up a lot of old memories I have since let go in one way or another. I believe this is a struggle many artists may face at one time or another. When we write in present time, we might not realize we have placed our friend in a novel as a protagonist’s cousin. Years later, after we’ve had a falling out with that friend, it is a struggle to return to the novel’s mindset where you must love that “cousin” you can now see was someone very real and dear to you but no longer is.

But it’s okay. There are many ways to accept these moments. They aren’t all bad. In fact, I would say most of it isn’t bad. As my posts normally go, I repetitively say, “It’s all about attitude.”

When you return to these older works, hoping to make them better, you can accept where the influences come from for what they are. Just accept them, and dive into it with the same passion you have today. Eventually, I have noticed that I am adding more influence from my current life into TMT, instead of letting my past life define it. It’s an interesting area to explore, because it’s the blending of me – my past, my present, and my future – and it brings a sense of serene acceptance.

Here are three thoughts that helped me through this:

A. Be prepared to feel this way. There’s nothing to be guilty or ashamed or feel any weirdness about. It’s natural. Think of it this way, it would be impossible to go sit in your high school parking lot without remembering a few times you were there. Art can be the same way. If you wrote it five years ago, don’t be surprised if memories from five years ago sneak up. It’s okay. Enjoy it, and change it if you want to.

B. You’re an artist – it’s bound to happen. You are inspired by life, after all.

C. If you are disturbed or upset, that’s okay, too. Put the writing down. Try not to be hard on yourself about it. The past isn’t always a place people are comfortable with. Write something new!

I actually asked about this topic on my Facebook Author Page, “Have you ever associated your novel (or a book that your have read) with a certain time in your life? If so, when you go back to edit it and/or reread it, have you seen influences you didn’t see before? Is this easy or difficult to comprehend and how do you think it affects the writing and/or reading process?”

Join me on FB, and your responses might be used next!
Join me on FB, and your responses might be used next!

Here are two fantastic answers,

The J. Aurel Guay Archive: “I wrote half a novel during a very transitional time of life. I set it down for several years and when I came back to it, I couldn’t find the motivation to finish it because I had progressed through that stage. I will finish it eventually, but it will change fundamentally as they open questions on which the novel turns have been answered in my life. I just can’t write it from the same frame of reference anymore. You can find a snippet here.”

Tanya Taimanglo: “My romantic comedy, Secret Shopper was cathartic for me. It resembles so much of my life, although I insist it’s fiction. (It is). The death of my father, elements of a bad break up and finding real love made its way onto the page. It was written years ago, and when I do reread it, I cringe at how much truth I allowed out there and I’m reminded of how much growth I’ve made. In some ways, it’s like a journal I’ve made public. I can’t undo it, just embrace its truth and move on.”

What about you? Have you ever returned to a writing and saw past influences you didn’t see at the time of writing it? How did you cope with it?


19 thoughts on “Help: I’ve Returned to an Old Piece of Writing, and I Can See Influences From My Past

  1. I haven’t had this experience. It’s only recently that I’ve made much use of experiences that are personal to me in my writing, so I haven’t had the chance to go back and be sucker-punched by them. Something to look forward to, I guess?

    I think your point C is a really good one on how to cope with this, but there’s another point it raises. If you’re disturbed or upset by what you’ve written, consider whether that’s just a personal response or whether readers might feel the same way. If they will, and if that’s what you’re after, than maybe by tapping into your past you’ve written something powerful, and that’s an achievement to be cherished, not one to hide from.

    1. Well, if you ever experience it, I hope this post helps 😀 Thank you for reading and commenting. I think you made a really great addition: sometimes writing something difficult can happen because you’re writing something great.

  2. Every novel I have ever written has an element on my life in it, some more so than others. I have tried to go back and rewrite some of the novels written in my younger years but I am not that person anymore and my life is very different now so this has been very challenging. I have found that I can keep the plot and some of the subplots but the characters almost always change, like me they have to grow and evolve.

  3. Going back to old writing is a good practice I think, I definitely see things in the plot I hadn’t realised I’d put in there before. It is good to change and help those pieces move though and change for the better, as you grow so does your writing 🙂

  4. I see it a lot in my older works, but I tended to consciously include friends and events in there. I haven’t looked at them in years, so I don’t know if there’s anything hidden. On my own blog, I’ve been reviewing themes behind my main characters and the currently published books. There are a few themes and influences that I never noticed until recently. I seem to have a habit of making fathers and sons butt heads, which is more of a surprise in that I do it all the time.

    1. It’s funny you mention how you have a habitual characteristic you include. I think that would be a great topic as I do the same thing. In my prewriting stages, I even use the same names for certain characters until I come up with different names. Makes you wonder why certain characters return, especially when you cannot make a correlation with a real-life person.

      1. Odd thing about me and returning characters. Since I’m working in the same fantasy world for all of my series and making connections between them, I’ve found that some of the most unexpected ones appear multiple times. This one elven thief has already found her way into two other stories besides her main one.

  5. I realized during my first novel, The Magister’s Mask, that two major supporting characters were much like friends of mine. Rather than fighting that, I tried to make it a respectful portrayal. That way, if they figured it out, they would be flattered and not angry.

    As I’ve written more books, I don’t do that as much. I’ve already “done that,” if you will. But in my most recent novel, The Grimhold Wolf, I found myself needing a whole bunch of character names all at once, and I turned to the kids I knew from school. Now, child privacy is a big concern, so I only used one of their names. So “Marcus Bean” and “Joseph Preston” each originally came from two different kids.

    We do what works, or what we need, I guess.

  6. Okay. You opened this can o’ worms. [grin] So here goes.
    Awhile back, I got a horrible review on one of my books. Now, I’ve always made it a point to never respond to reviews, good or bad, but this one was obviously a troll looking to start a fight. I was accused of having unbelievable characters in unbelievable situations. Several scenes were commented to illustrate the point. I ignored the troll and shrugged it off, but it did make me consider my characters.
    When I thought about the comments, I realized that almost all of my characters have been drawn from experiences with friends and family. Not all of the experiences have been good and I draw upon rather scary real events for the darker aspects of my tales.
    During this period of introspection, I considered each of my stories, including some that were written more than twenty years back, and each major character had a face and name from my past.
    Methinks all writers have to draw on what they know.
    Thanks for starting an interesting thread.

  7. A lot of the writing I did as a teenager was dark, bitter and melancholy, or downright steeped in sorrow. The few pieces I kept still bring some of that anxiety back, but it’s different now. It is as if seen and felt through a thin veil, a filter of sorts. I often revisit what I wrote back then because it serves as a powerful reminder to distance myself and my life from my characters. I can’t help adding and including personalities, events, and quirks from my life and that’s fine. As long as I’m conscious about what I’m doing and adding those aspects where they fit and contribute. It can be used as a tool like any other in the writing kit.

  8. Great post. I definitely see aspects of my life in my work. Sometimes it is intentional, but most times it’s not. Interestingly enough, the setting of my novel is most often influenced by where I physically am at the time. It’s amazing what we take away from the places we’ve been.

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