A band I love, the Trashcan Sinatras, are coming to town this summer. It’s the first time they’ve played here in more than a decade and I’m going, despite the fact that it’s probably been at least that long since I went to a club gig. I’m sure I can blend in with the university crowd still, right?
Since I bought my ticket I’ve been listening to their stuff non-stop, both old and new. I got to thinking – I wonder if I know their work now better than they do. I know all the lyrics, all the riffs, when the piano comes in and how the backup vocals go. Songs from two decades ago are just as fresh in my mind as the day they were released. Like any superfan, I’m obsessed.
So does this mean that I know their work better than they do? I’ve been thinking about my own writing – I actually find it hard to read it when it’s “done.” Once I stop pouring over it and editing it and making it as close to perfect as I can, I can’t stand to read it over for fear of finding something I’m unhappy with or wish I’d done differently.
Most of my writing is also a product of a specific time, place, and age as well. The thoughts I had when I was 20 aren’t the same as those at age 40. I’m betting Salinger didn’t re-read Catcher in the Rye once after it was published, let alone yearly. I’m guessing J.K. Rowling has moved on to new projects, and can’t quote from the first Harry Potter anymore.
So while it’s unlikely at this moment in time, maybe someday I’ll have my own superfan who actually knows my own work better than I do. Here’s my thanks in advance. It’s the superfans that keep art alive, who let you know that what you’ve done really mattered to someone. I can only dream of having someone who loves my work so much, they know it better than I do.
Until then, do you think it’s worth it to spend a little time re-reading your own stuff? Can you be your own superfan, and is it worth it to relive the past – or should you always keep driving to the future? I think for me, it’ll be continuing to focus on the new. But maybe the occasional re-read of my own book is worth it.
Lee Ann Eckhardt Smith says
Ah, yes, I always take a deep breath before delving into my past books or articles! I know there’s bound to be something in there that I cringe at – not always a big cringe, but time and more experience always gives us better ways of writing, right?
Still, I do like to re-read my earlier works on occasion. Gives me a chance to remember myself as I was: what I was thinking about, how I expressed myself. How far I’ve come since then, in my interests and abilities. Actually, I’m usually pleased with that younger version of my current self – and I bet you would be too, Lynn! You’ll see all the good writing that came out of yourself in previous phases.
Even though we do move on to new work, I think the new owes a debt of gratitude to what came before, while we were still becoming the writers we are today.
And you are one fine writer, my friend! You continue to inspire me. Just call me:
Jennifer Roundell says
I’m with you, Lynn! I think if ever I finish with a project, I won’t want to look at it again. I’ve never finished a writing project, so far as I remember, but I have sent out weekly emails to our Girl Guide parents. Since I’m also a parent, my personal email is on the group email mailing list. When my email-to-parent shows up in my personal inbox, I get rid of it right away. I don’t want to read it and think, oh, I could have worded that better. And don’t show me all those typos!
Also, I won’t reread this comment after I click the post comment. 🙂
That’s looking at my own stuff. Now, looking at it from the perspective of an outsider, I have to agree with Lee Ann. Your previous published work is polished and lovely, and written by a different version of you. Almost like another author. Your previous works may not be something to reread yearly, but I think an occasional glance back may impress you. And might make you proud.