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Old work

I'm at least better than this guy.

I’ve been working on Scrivener For Dummies nearly non-stop since the end of February, but I finished edits last week, which means I can finally focus my efforts on my fiction again.

I have four completed manuscripts under my belt, but I have at least as many that I’ve started and not finished for one reason or another. My plan is to go back and look at those unfinished works with a fresh eye and figure out how to get the story moving again.

Last night I stayed up too late reading a manuscript I started almost two years ago. It was fun to read words that I didn’t even remember writing. Like doing a critique for a friend.

Best of all, I could see how much progress I’ve made since then. While my writing now isn’t perfect—whatever that means—my development is clear. I used to write super-short scenes of 300-400 words, which makes for a very choppy book. Now my scenes are usually at least 1000 words, and sometimes up to 3000.

The change is in the details of setting, internal dialog, and providing adequate page space for character actions and reactions.

I used to be horrible at grounding the reader at the beginning of a scene, so things like POV, location, and time were unclear. I’m now much more aware of the importance of the opening lines, especially when starting a new chapter.

(If you struggle with setting—or pacing, or body language—I highly recommend Mary Buckham’s classes. Any class you can take by Mary is well worth the money. She’s an amazing teacher of craft and I gladly open my wallet for her.)

The manuscript I went over last night also had a lot of procedural detail—my hero is a DEA agent—without anything to break it up. You could tell I’d done my research for this one. I’d like to think I’ve learned to be more subtle about that kind of thing, while still being accurate so the story rings true.

I learned one more thing from reading my old work. I’m not bad at this writing thing. Despite the technical problems, I got into the story, was pleasantly surprised by how I’d set up certain plot elements, and enjoyed the characters.

I needed the reminder that I’m a storyteller.

How about you? Read any of your old work lately? What did you think?

Image: By KaterBegemot (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons

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  1. Reply

    I’ve had this exact same experience. It’s fun to go back and read old work. It truly is like reading someone else’s work. I’m just trying to decide if I should rework the story or just take the characters and general premise and start anew.

    Congrats on finishing edits for Scrivener for Dummies. Yay! So exciting.


    • Reply

      Alison: I’m going through the same thought process. For more recent MSs, I’m thinking I can just do revisions. For older stuff, I’ll likely take the storyline and scene synopses as a guideline and rewrite.

      And, thanks! It’s a good feeling. 🙂

  2. Mary Wolff


    Break out the digital champagne for a toast to Gwen: May this book lead to a long line of best-sellers and frequent appearances on TV and movie sets, where you get to help pick the leading actors.

    Currently, I’m working on some old memoir/short stories from my USAF days. It brings back memories and new story ideas. My old work mostly whines “why aren’t you sending us out?” Some of my stuff is good.

    Can’t wait to get my hands on that book of yours! It will speed my productivity.

  3. Joan Oltman


    Please let us know when Scrivener for Dummies is ready. I enjoyed the on line class but would like to have the book as well.

    • Reply

      Rest assured, Joan, I’ll post about it, tweet about it, Facebook about it… 😉 Or you can pre-order it, and it’ll ship when ready (should be mid August). Thanks for your interest!

  4. Reply

    Gwen, ditto. When I read through my old manuscripts or the ones I’ve started but not finished, I’m generally impressed by whoever did the writing – wow! That was me! 😉 Appreciate your sharing.

  5. Reply

    I have gone through the same process. In some cases, the manuscripts were salvageable and in others–not so much. What I’ve learned this year is that I realize more quickly whether or not a story will work based on the characters and who they are as well as the line I am targeting. Stuff I thought I was going to write won’t work, so back to the drawing board. This means less time wasted once I do sit down to write the next shiny new manuscript. Meanwhile, I’m revising my third book for the fourth time in the hope that this time, knowing what is expected of the line, will be get me closer to the brass ring.

    I love Mary’s classes. And Margie Lawson’s lecture packets are amazing. I’d love to take one of her total immersion classes.


    • Reply

      That’s a good skill to have, Christine. One I’m slowly picking up. Now I just have to keep myself from thinking they all suck. 😉

      Mary is amazing. And I would love to work with Margie at some point too. I started going through one of her packets before the SFD contract came through. I need to get back to it.

      Good luck on this next round of revisions!

  6. Reply

    Isn’t it amazing how much you can see more clearly when you’ve let something sit for a long time? You really do need time to detach yourself before going in for edits. My response to older work is similar to yours – I am able to spot what needs work, yet am also encouraged by the parts that came out okay during the first draft.

    So glad you will be getting back to fiction work now. I know how much you love it! 🙂

  7. Reply

    Wow, it must be the moon. I woke up wondering where I put the box filled with my old stories, snippets and ideas, one novel abandoned… and darn it, a twenty year old story about a cool, urbane vampiress! An editor, told me she liked it but no one would read a story about a female vampire… a lesson learned! Keep sending it out, don’t believe anyone who says no go!

    You’re right, the absolute best part is reading them again and seeing the growth and glimmers that hint of talent, like you said, whatever that is… I also, love the fact I can’t remember writing it!

    There is also a binder of scary, angry poems from my early widow years… not sure I’m ready to find those!

    • Reply

      Crisgzr: I can’t believe how many stories I’ve heard where an editor/agent says “no one will publish that”, and then the author finds the right agent/ed and it becomes a hit. Hope you find the box!

      But, maybe those poems aren’t meant to be found… 😉

      • Reply

        Thanks Gwen, you inspired me to purchase Scrivener and was bummed to see I will have to wait for your book but I did pre-order it.

        I think one project I will use Scrivener is to type in all my poems and stories, it should make a nice place to organize old writing. And if I dissect in Scrivener, I will be able to easily use scenes that might exist as the only good thing in a story! One of my writing professors told me that I was too good at writing ‘onions’ -perfect tidbits, that are well drafted scenes that can be peeled away but no ‘core’. Fortunately, for me I didn’t understand that this was criticism until years later LOL -now I can harves tmy onions!

        • Reply

          Thanks, Crisgzr! Scrivener is perfect for organizing those tidbits. I have a file I call Playground where I keep scenes without a story. One file of them sure beats dozens of random documents on my hard drive.

          So, onions, huh? That’s still a gift, I think. And sometimes ignorance isn’t just bliss, it’s the only way we can move forward. Good luck turning those onions into a whole garden! 😉

  8. Reply

    After a few weeks away from serious writing (due to the day job and family vacation), I sat at my laptop Sunday with the intention of adding new words to one of my current wips. I hadn’t read the beginning chapters recently and was happily surprised. The pacing was great, dialogue realistic, and attraction/conflict between the leads apparent. Yay! (To be honest, I’ve had occasions when I reread my old work and was embarassed by it. Perhaps I’m growing as a writer, too.)

    Congratulations on your upcoming publication and welcome back to fiction writing. 🙂

    • Reply

      Hey, Jolyse! I think the two best things that come from reading old work are the realization that you’ve grown since then, and the wonderment at some of what you wrote. It’s nice to be able to view it objectively. Welcome back to writing yourself, and thanks!

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