If It Ain’t Broke: On Revising Old Creative Pieces

Writing is hard work, and finishing something and feeling satisfied about it is one of the most rewarding things a writer can ever experience. Questions of publishing and getting exposed are things that come after in the logical sequence of events, of course. Sometimes, though, there’s the tendency to get back to the work, and re-work it. On your own. No pushing from someone who’s edited it, no modifying because of the feedback received from friends and family. Just the incredible urge to edit it yourself, and with good reason: you’re not completely satisfied with what you’ve done.

If you have the tendency to do that, that’s okay. Chances are, you’re not alone.

The urge to modify your own piece will probably come when, for example, you dig up a few old poems or stories and find that they’re cringe-worthy things written by yourself from five years ago. In short, it’s embarrassing. Age and experience have tempered your vision, and that epic love poem you’ve written years ago – brilliant, then, absolutely brilliant – makes you sick. Or, you find ridiculously obvious plot-holes in short stories you’ve done.

It’s certainly tempting to go back and revise many things, especially when your life has gone to a different direction. However, I’m here to tell you that it’s wise not to discard the original. Revise it, sure, it’s okay. But to throw away the original is something I don’t advise. And I have a few good reasons for that:

  1. It acts as a time capsule of sorts. Old pieces written show you what you were thinking back then, what you were feeling, glimpses of what you were going through. Small things may be remembered just by going back to your old poems. Old struggles that probably seem trivial now were monumental then, and if you wrote them down, chances are you would still be able to remember how hard it was, preparing for that Math exam, or how nerve-wracking it was trying to pick out a major in college.
  2. It has its own value. Don’t invalidate the value of what you’ve written before just because you think it’s not good now. It’s important that you be able to judge your past work independent of what your work is now, or what that past work can be if it’s refined.
  3. It plots progress. Keeping old pieces, hiding them, and coming back to them later can help you plot your growth as a writer. It shows progress, or change, in how you write, what you write about, the lucidity of your language, and everything else that comes with the territory. There’s no reason not to look at old pieces just because they may be, at least your eyes now, “primitive” in essence and sentiment. Perhaps, more than just your growth in writing, it also can help you show growth in yourself as a person. So keep those things.

I’ll end this post by leaving you with a quote (and briefly putting it into context, of course):

“To pore over literary shortcomings of twenty years ago, to attempt to patch a faulty work into the perfection it missed at its first execution… all this is surely vain and futile… In order to correct [defects in the text], I should have to rewrite the book – and in the process of rewriting… I should probably get rid not only of some of the faults of the story, but also of such merits as it originally possessed.”

– Aldous Huxley, from his foreword to a later edition of Brave New World

Aldous Huxley says it best, I suppose. Though I do not deny that it’s a rather lengthy quote.


Jillian is an English Literature graduate who loves reading science fiction and fantasy, and is a big fan of J.G. Ballard. She is obsessed with coffee, video games, and rottweilers, and keeps herself busy by writing and walking around a lot. She's currently reading Jeanette Winterson and a lot of YA literature.

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