“I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now.”
Edna Mode, The Incredibles (Pixar)
This might be a surprising admission, but The Incredibles is one of my all-time favourite films. One of Pixar’s great feats of storytelling, it layers adolescent angst, adult bullying, loss of innocence, midlife despair, betrayal and redemption, with lovely retro-inspired graphics and some great jokes. And the quote above, from the diminutive costume designer who has some of the best lines in the film. Not to mention, it foreshadows Tony Stark’s assertion that “we create our own demons” in Iron Man 3.
We are on a journey as creators, one which tries to honour the past but look forward, always moving onward, upward. We see film-makers do this all the time lately, with their re-imaginings and reboots. Can we do the same as writers? Well, I just did this very thing.
I refashioned an old story, and it came out great.
For my writers’ group anthology, I dusted off an old story that had lain half-finished in my drafts for at least nine months. (The prompt that started it was even older.) I also looked at something I wrote during my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. I sent the second off for editing, and got to work finishing the first.
My NaNo story came back with numerous comments, and really needed a complete overhaul. My other story, Out of Time, showed a curious thing, one which my editor mentioned. The old half had many changes, but the second half had very few. It was as if they had been written by different people, my editor said. I thought about this, and concluded he was right.
I changed, so my writing changed. I had improved with time and practice.
We so often fall into despair, that things are not going our way and we are, in fact, frauds, failures, talentless hacks whose output has even less merit than that of a monkey bashing away at the keyboard. This story showed me that I am getting better. The NaNo story showed me that sometimes even major surgery can’t save the patient, and I withdrew it. Chalked up to experience, it forms part of my progress, even if it is ugly and misshapen. I still learned from writing and dissecting it.
Armed with better skills, I was able to see how Out of Time needed a nip here and a tuck there, so that the old now fits seamlessly with the new. The whole is something I am proud to put my name to.
So, why not review something you wrote a while ago? Critical examination and comparison with your current work will show you how far you have come; how you know now where the weak spots are, where it could be sharpened, made better. Or maybe it is the failed experiment that is like training miles logged before a marathon. It strengthened you, but wasn’t for public consumption.
We should celebrate our journey, as much as we march onwards to better things. We need the internal validation of recognising our own progress, and to map our progress we must see the distance we have travelled. Sometimes it’s good to look back, just for a moment, until we remember Neil Gaiman’s words.
Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.