• Reading Your Own Writing

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 1 comment

    BookshelfToday I forced myself to reread some of my first published writing. I say forced because that’s what it takes; I absolutely cannot stand to revisit my early attempts at trying to sound like I know what the hell I’m talking about. It’s difficult enough to reread recent work—I only do it if I have to. I despise everything I wrote yesterday. I hate this post already.

    I’m certainly not alone: reading your own writing seems an almost universal difficulty. We asked on Twitter and Facebook if other writers feel the same as we do, and with only one or two exceptions, the response makes it clear that most writers struggle when revisiting their old work.

    WBN coach Kirstin Chen says that, like me, she despises her own writing and doesn’t read it unless she has to. “I haven’t even listened to the audio version of my book,” she tweeted. “And I don’t think I ever will.”

    (Reminds me of that scene in Seinfeld where George has to listen to the audiobook version of a risk management textbook but then discovers that the voice actor sounds exactly like himself.)

    About her own published work, Austin’s Alyssa Harad tweeted that she’d “prefer to forget about it entirely.”

    I would too, especially judging by its placement on our bookshelf, the photo of which you can see atop this post. See that stack of magazines in the very upper right, the shelf that’s accessible only by extension ladder? That’s where my earliest published work lives. This is about as close as I can get to exiling it without actually getting rid of it. And looking at it, rereading it, is torture.

    But! Sometimes a bit of self-flagellation can show us how we’ve developed as writers and where we still need improvement.

    [Tweet “”Sometimes a bit of self-flagellation can show us how we’ve developed as writers.””]

    Get Out Your Ladder

    Today I dare you to spend a few minutes reading your own writing; the older the better. Maybe it’s not much of a dare; maybe you’re among the lucky few who can stomach your own words. Good for you. (And teach me how!)

    Either way, revisit some of your old work, reading it as a writer. This will work particularly well if you think your past writing is not only difficult to read, but straight up bad. Because as we’ve discussed in the past, you can sometimes learn as much from reading bad writing as you can from reading good.

    We can even turn this into an exercise. Take a blank sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. On one side, keep a list of the flaws that jump out at you as you read through this stuff. Have you addressed those flaws? If not, brainstorm some strategies for doing so.

    On the other side, make a list of what works. Are you still doing those things? If not, why not/should you be?

    Your ideas have likely evolved in the past few years; you’ve grown as a person. In the same way, you have evolved, grown, as a writer. Looking back upon your early fumblings may cause you to cringe, but it may also prove that you’re progressing as a writer. And it may even help you progress even further.

    [Tweet “”Looking back upon your early fumblings may prove that you’re progressing as a writer.””]

    Discussion & Further Reading

    Writers: Do you have trouble reading your own writing? If so, what about it bothers you? How do you push past those negative feelings? Let us know in the comments section below or by dropping us an email.

    If you’re in need of a weekly writing treat, subscribe to our email list, either in your right-hand sidebar or by ticking the “Join” box beneath your comment.

    And here are some similar posts which offer strategies such as:

    Conquer Your Fear of Writing … By Writing

    Recharge Your Writing

    How to Spin Your Writerly Negativity Into Contentment


    David DuhrWriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is books editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and contributes regularly to the Dallas Morning News, Publishing Perspectives, the Observer and others.


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    Was I stoned? What was i thinking? Where’s the noun in that sentence? All I see are adjectives…..or have I ever heard of a period? “Flowery,” would be a word to describe Carlos Fuentes or Laura Esquivel. Mexican writers I was reading at the time must have really blossomed in my mind. It hurts my literary eyes to look at it. The concept of informing my readers was not the goal, I am remembering now, but it was to impress my readers with the poetical style I thought made for “good” writing. And the funny thing is, that idea remains… Read more »

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