I was at an awesome reading a few weeks ago where author Megan Abbott mentioned that she never re-reads her books when they’re finished.
This struck a chord with me. I don’t either. By the time a book is done and finished and out there in the world it’s really hard for me to revisit it. When I dip into my books, not only do I see paragraphs I wish I’d cleaned up and small missed opportunities, but it just doesn’t feel right for some reason.
I can’t even read the Spanish translation! I have always half-thought that the Spanish versions of the Jacob Wonderbar novels are like Spanish/English tutorials made just for me, but even in that form I can’t bear to revisit the story.
It’s kind of like running into an ex on the street. “I’m sorry, we had a great time together, it’s nothing personal, but I’ve moved on to other novels.”
I do a lot of writing just for myself that's more like putting daydreams into words that I love to reread. Most of it is just comfort writing so it's not publishable.
With my novels I can't imagine NOT rereading them. I only write what I like to read and I never get tired of my favorite books so I probably won't get tired of my own.
Eugenia Parrish says
Yes and no. My coming-of-age novel took me 12 years to write, so yes, sometimes I pick it up to flip through, read a line here and there and think, 'Ya know, that ain't half bad!'
On the other hand, if I tried to read it all the way through, I'd drive myself nuts over what could have been better. Move on, move on.
Nick LeVar says
I'm currently working on my debut novel, and once it's finished, I'll be so excited, I'll probably read it several times!
Jeanne Ryan says
Other than reading aloud at events (and only when asked to), I avoid looking at my finished work. It only leads to second-guessing stuff that's beyond fixing. I'll save that angst for the manuscripts in progress.
Stephanie Faris says
One author compared reading her old books to visiting old friends. I've been writing so long now, I have books (unpublished ones, granted) that were written 20 years ago. I don't even recognize them now. Luckily, most of them have been lost along the way! I think time and perspective changes that…when you're in your 50s or 60s, you'll look back at your early books and think, "Wow. I was good." You'll still be good, but you'll just be amazed that you were so good and you didn't appreciate it when you were younger.
Bruce's story made me laugh out loud…just a propos of nothing.
As I read through the comments, I don't think I came across any thought on this with which I couldn't identify.
I'm not yet published (and imagine I'll be swaying between wanting to experience the feeling of reading it from the book-in-hand and knowing I'll be marking it up for Edits in the Sky if I try…hey, maybe that's a way to get through it, pretend you can still mark it up for edit), but I feel it's Out the Door when I put it up online (at authonomy.) When I go back for a peek and still like it, that's pretty exciting. But some things, yeah…I cringe. Still, I think that however difficult it may be for me, that as someone who's always learning and trying especially to become better at this particular craft, it's good for me to go back and revisit. And you never know, maybe I or you will be the next Tennessee Williams and 40 years from now, that skywriting will fix the rhythm that actor just couldn't get right.
I'm not published yet, so I don't know what it feels like to reread a book I've published, but I imagine I would reread a book the same way I reread books I haven't published but finished. Every couple of months (sometimes years) I'll reread a couple of chapters just to jog my memory, and I'll either be blown away by how excellent the chapter is or terrified by how terrible it is. It's hit or miss.
It's a lovely feeling, revisiting your old books. It takes you back to the time you were pounding out (and agonizing over) the first draft, and you get to re-immerse yourself in the mood back when the story was still exciting and full of potential. I revisit my old stories for the nostalgia, but I do understand why some writers don't. You wish you'd used this word instead of that, or added in this phrase at this page – if only I'd done that, the story could've been better!