I have been posting old pieces of writing in the hope of discovering some overlooked talent. It was like showing old photographs of yourself, expecting to see something different. I may have left my ‘then’ writing behind, and there may be some nice touches in it, but it is old writing that has not evolved to the place where I feel it is now.
Like me, my writing has grown older, less obvious, and a tad wiser.
The difficult issue with rewriting old books is that one finds it difficult to disassociate oneself from one’s previous incarnation. The writing is essentially the writing of someone who has passed. It is a memorial to a previous self, a memory of a time gone by, an artefact. And I have problems with throwing things away. However, what I thought to be good back then is not so good now.
How does a person ask for help? How does a writer ask others to lend a helping hand? How do I start all over again?
Lost In Transit Robert McCrum The Observer 2004
In the days of the typewriter and, before that, the humble pen, novelists would go to extravagant lengths to protect their work from fire, theft and acts of god. One paranoid soul of my acquaintance used to store her manuscripts, wrapped in tin-foil, in the fridge, the one place known to be immune to the fiercest domestic inferno.
We may smile at such measures, but English literature teaches us to be careful. When Thomas Carlyle sent The History of the French Revolution to his friend John Stuart Mill to read, Mill’s housemaid, mistaking it for waste paper, used it to light a fire. Carlyle had not kept a copy but managed to rewrite it in six months.
And so it goes…
Steinbeck is reputed ot have taken a drop of whisky after finishing Of Mice And Men, his new puppy ate the first draft.
T E Lawrence left his manuscript on a train change at Reading.
Hemingway and Lowry ‘lost’ their manuscripts completely.
The list probably goes on. It didn’t stop them from going straight back and rewriting without any reference to the original text other than what they held in the memories and notes.