Alright, so I’ve talked about my disagreement with this piece of writing advice here on my blog before, but the time for moderation is out. I’m taking a hard stance. This is a horrible piece of advice and, in fact, the exact opposite of it is true.
You’ve probably run across this piece of advice if you read writing blogs or following different writing-themed tumblrs, or just a lot a lot of writers on social media. This advice goes something like ‘don’t reread your work in progres, just keep writing onward, no looking back’ with the idea that rereading is distracting, disheartening, a time waster, or will lead to cycles of rewriting/editing that compromises writing any new stuff or finishing projects.
And, le sigh, I find this entire sentiment garbage, unhelpful, and completely antithetic to what I find helpful for my writing progress.
Now, I know I just said this was a hard stance, but I will put in my one caveat. Always rewriting beginnings and never finishing anything is a detriment to writing, but I believe that is a separate issue that rereading. If you can’t reread without needing to open a new document for a new draft then maybe you shouldn’t reread, but that’s not rereadings fault. Rereading, in fact, can be very helpful.
Why Rereading Your ‘Works in Progress’ is Good For Your Writing
1) It gets you back into the flow, man.
If you are sitting down to write for the day, working on an in-progress work and you can just pick up where you left off with no refresher, than I commend you. It is a rare day that I can do that and only if I have a new scene well-imagined and ready to go inside my skull. Rereading the last few paragraphs, the last full scene, or even farther back, can help you, the writer, to pick up the threads of the plot/characters/themes.
2) It reminds you of things you forgot.
Rereading from the beginning of your work in progress, whether its a short story or a novel-length work (or some length in between) will knock you in the head with details you had dropped earlier in the story and then forgot. Don’t feel bad about forgetting. The writing process takes longer than reading does, so use that reading speed to your advantage. Rereading may help you discover a character quirk, a plot detail, or thematic element that you had started to develop but hadn’t followed up on yet. When you get to your new writing for the day… Well it’s finally time to follow up, punks.
3) It inspires new ideas.
Hey, sometimes when you reread you see a detail that you hadn’t forgot, but one you had just put in there incidentally… and you’ll be all like… ‘Fuck, what if I turned that into a thing?!’ It’s the same point as above but more about the happy accidents you the writer takes advantage of. When you build on ideas set up earlier in the text that employs a whole bunch of great writing techniques: foreshadowing, build ups and payoffs, reveals, narrative parallels, and all that great stuff that makes for good plot, themes, and/or character development.
And another thing) Building on these last three points, if you have a writers block (or whatever else you might call it), when you get back into the flow, discover old ideas left unexplored, and discover new ideas… well, that’s all fertile ground to break through that writer's block, isn’t it?
Writing original stories is enough of a process of working from scratch. Don’t make it harder by divorcing your process from all the hard work you’ve already done. Writing is not just new idea followed by new idea. It is ideas that build on and tangle with and reflect on each other.
Stop eschewing reading, and instead embrace it as a preparatory step of writing.
Insights from the life of an aspiring, struggling writer; a passionate reader, and a working librarian.
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