Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Would Yours Still Fit?






Your wedding dress, that is? Or top hat and tails? Bear with me, fellow writers - this is relevant to our craft…

A couple of weeks ago I fetched my wedding dress down from the loft. I hadn’t fitted it on since my wedding day, more than a decade ago. Finally the time had come to swish around in front of my daughter, show her what Mum had looked like for real, instead of in fancy photos. I mean my weight’s more or less the same, give or take a few pounds; my height hasn’t shrunk (yet) and my hair’s still blonde. To the outsider, to me even, there was no apparent reason why it shouldn’t slip on. So I undressed and stepped into the cream puff creation, trying not to tread on the skirts, beaming at my daughter as she helped me hike it up, imagining I’d look like one of those celebs on the cover of OK Magazine or Hello!

Folks, you’ve probably guessed the rest. We heaved, we hoed, but the zipper just wouldn’t budge. ‘It must be jammed!’ I cried as I breathed in hard and my daughter pulled together the seams, straining to do it up. But it was no use, the zip stuck fast at about ten inches from the top. Sheepishly I turned around, red in the face, looking like a half-peeled banana that was just about to fall out.

You see, I’ve changed. Not in an obvious way. But I’m not the same anymore. I’ve had two children and like it or not I’ve got a permanent mummy pouch. And why is all this relevant to our writing? Well, to me it’s a bit like going back to old work. When I hear of writers publishing books they’ve previously written, once they’ve made a successful debut, I wonder how. If I take out my old manuscripts, I’m not the same person I was when I wrote them all that time ago. There is no way I could even rework the book I wrote and subsequently abandoned last year. I would want to tweak every character, every plot twist, and delete the many bits which now make me cringe – it simply doesn’t fit me anymore. And I don’t fit it. My writing skills and I have moved on.

As far as I’m concerned once you’ve discarded a project don’t look back, don’t restrict your writing and try and force it to fit the parameters of something you created in the past. Sure, take it out from time to time, relish the memories, the excitement it gave you when it was fresh and new. But realize that whatever it cost, however criminal it seems to keep it hidden in the dark, you need to find new things to suit the current you and push yourself forward.

Of course, I might feel differently if an agent or editor took a real interest in my past work. In the same way that I might try the Brussel Sprout Diet if my husband announced a longing to renew our vows in our original garb. But for the moment - and for the future, I suspect - my old manuscripts are firmly stashed under the proverbial bed. As for my wedding dress? It is once again boxed – with love – and back in the loft.

22 comments:

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

That dress is an imposter! Throw it out - it will lie in that box forever more taunting you!

Great metaphor and I completely concurr with what you are saying.

Think yourself lucky you got that dress on most of the way, I couldn't get through the front door of the first house I bought let alone trying to get into my old wedding dress.

Samantha Tonge said...

LOL, MOB! They say every woman has their benchmark from years ago, clothes-wise, which is mad really - time does take its toll!

At least the changes writing-wise, over time, reflect positive developments:)

CarolineG said...

What a brilliant post. Warm, witty and wise!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

What a superb post, Sam, thank you. And it really highlights how the changes that happen are subtle and transmute 'under the radar' - we change without really seeing it or knowing it until we try to go back and no longer 'fit'. A while ago I went to visit a friend in London who I used to live next door to. The new people in my old flat invited me in. It was a really telling moment. I was shocked at how small it was. Yet I had lived there for over twenty years. And, like you, I wasn't any bigger in physical terms. But maybe I'd grown a bit inside.
Susiex

Samantha Tonge said...

Thanks, guys.

Yes, it is bizarre, Susie, how changes take place in life without us realizing. I sometimes watch the weather report on the tv and think to myself 'goodness, they've aged' - i don't seem to acknowledge it though, in my craggy face that stares back at me every day from my mirror.

In a way i admire people who can dig up old work and try to rework it. I can never muster up the enthusiasm - i'd rather give my since-developed writing skills a free reign.

Gillian McDade said...

Great post Sam! A very enjoyable read - brill metaphor with which many I'm sure will identify.

Rebecca Connell said...

Very funny! Although seeing as I only wore my wedding dress nine months ago, I'm hoping I'm not at the stage of not fitting into it yet! :-/

I see what you're saying about the old manuscripts, but on the other hand I do have one that still haunts me...and am seriously considering going back to it. It would include so much re-writing, though, that it would almost feel like starting from scratch.

Samantha Tonge said...

Thanks, Gillian!

Nine months, eh, Rebecca? Well i can think of at least one reason why it may not fit you:)

I suppose if i really loved a manuscript i could possibly go back and i guess the fact that i don't feel like that about any of my previous books reflects the fact that they weren't published.

Speaking for myself, though, I do think i would feel constrained, unless i did did a very extensive rewrite where my writing was given a free reign.

emmadarwin said...

So true and funny Sam.

I'd never go to back to old manuscripts, but I rework old ideas - have another go, put a favourite character in another setting - all the time. Just about everything important in my published novels has its antecedents in things which are definitely, but definitely staying under the bed. I don't get them out because a) it would be like reading old diaries even though at the time I was sure it was pure fiction and b) if I found some stretches of decent writing it would be too tempting to up the wordcount by hurling some bleeding chunks into the new work.

But if the idea was worth having in the first place, it's probably still hanging around in my head - I find the seive of my memory is rather good at sorting wheat from chaff. So I set to and write a new novel, and tell myself I'm giving employment to the PhD students of the future...

Geraldine Ryan said...

I think Hilary Mantel's novel "A Place of Greater Safety" was actually her first, but not published till she'd already published a couple more. Of course, she may have gone back over it and reworked it first.

Actually, I have a confession. I have at least three stories that have been rejected years previously then bought by the same mag who rejected them the first time. I put it down to "a time whose moment has come".

Samantha Tonge said...

I hadn't thought of it like that Emma, but yes i too keep certain ideas floating around at the back of my mind and eventually re-use them in a different form.

Geri!! Good for you, though.

Caroline R said...

Super post, Sam.

I do have one book I would consider going back to, but maybe that's because it is very different from the stuff I normally write now. When I accidentally re-discovered it recently, it was as if it had been written by someone else, and therefore it didn't seem too bad.

Emily Cross said...

Hi Strictly Writers,

How are you?

i'm sorry to bother you, but I've recently started up a community forum for writers called the The Writer's Chronicle(mainly for those who blog) where we can meet and discuss all that is writing with other 'online' writers. Also with the recent addition of some published author members we have decided to set up a section to support published writers and help them promote themselves and their books - as we all know how hard it is to get published and how its even harder to get a large readership!

I know this email is out of the blue, but i was hoping that you might drop in and take a look around and perhaps join if your interested?


I'd greatly appreciate it,

thanks

Emily Cross

Here is the link
http://thewriterschronicle.forumotion.net/forum.htm

RosyB said...

You know, (oh you know me), I think I disagree with this.

There is a certain obsession to writing or painting or anything. Just as many painters will repaint over and over and over the same motif, so writers can worry and worry and worry at the same themes and ideas. I have an idea at the moment I have tried a few times and I am still determined to wrestle to the floor (the way I normally describe my writing process). It has beaten me so far, but I'm determined to be the victor in the end. Perhaps sometimes the time needs to come to do an idea properly or find the key to make it work.

Antonia said...

Great post! I chucked out my wedding dress years ago, because it was a funny bright colour, not one I'd wear now. So I do agree with you. There isn't much I'd ressurect in the way of writing from years ago. Onwards and upwards.

Rosy T said...

Great post - very clever analogy, Sam.

I agree in general, but do think RosyB has a point. I have a cousin who split up with her first husband and married again - barefoot on a beach in the Caribbean, in the same dress, but dyed purple and cut off into a mini.

So yes, our writing moves on - but nothing we write is ever completely wasted, and sometimes it can find a new lease of life in another form...

Geraldine Ryan said...

If I've read this post correctly I understand that Casey is talking about her very first faltering writing steps and how much she has come on since then. Probably to do with POV and dialogue and plotting and characterization and all those things that come hard unless you are a natural genius. You wouldn't want to inflict those beginning exercises onto anyone when you know how much improvement you've made over the years.

The same themes, I think, stay with us throughout our lives and it's these that we endlessly recycle. Who said that novelists write the same novel time after time?

I think we had a discussion like this in WriteWords in which Rosy Thornton asked what themes we were all obsessed with. I hadn't thought much about this but on looking back I realised that I did seem to have written an awful lot of stories based on the theme of mothers and daughters. Er, guess what the story I'm writing at present is about?

Samantha Tonge said...

Thanks, everyone.

I'm not against reworking old ideas, RosyB, i'm talking about reworking the actual nuts and bolts of an old story, rewriting it para by para, trying to fit your current writing skills into plot arcs and writing styles that suited you in a past writing life. I think we all find it hard to leave certain themes alone...

I'm intrigued, Antonia, as to what colour it was!

Hmm, i agree RosyT, nothing is wasted.

Geri, i couldn't even imagine re-using last year's work. But then i think my writing is still at a stage where i'm learning quite a lot. YOur writing is probably more honed so your last year's work is probably of a much better standard than mine.

Antonia said...

Please don't aske me to tell you what colour it was!!!!!

Samantha Tonge said...

I'm asking!!!

It wasn't like Becky's bridesmaid dress out of the Shopoholic film was it (if you've seen that)?!!!

Antonia said...

I haven't seen the film, but here goes...it was bright yellow and bright blue, with a ruff neck!

There, I've said it...

Samantha Tonge said...

Very similar then!!!

Goodness. It must have looked very cheery:):)

Hope you feel better for letting that out:)