Time and Forgetfulness Put Things into Perspective

Diane Lynn Tibert
Old photographs, like treasure, are often dug up years after they are buried. (Diane, left; Carolyn, right)

Last fall, my sister gave me a 4×6 photograph I had never seen before. At least I didn’t remember seeing it before. It was of me and my sister, taken on a summer day at Liscomb Mills. If I had seen this picture shortly after it was taken, I probably wouldn’t have liked it. I never liked pictures of myself. However, time and forgetfulness has changed my opinion. I do like this picture now.

This change of heart reminded me of a folder of writing I had found not long ago. I had begun reading one of the stories and was impressed with how well it was written. I didn’t remember writing it, but it had to be mine. It was with other stories I had written. Although it wasn’t finished, it had great potential.

While reading another story in the file, one I was familiar with, I made a different discovery. It wasn’t as great as I had originally thought it was twenty years ago. It was filled with bookisms, bad dialogue and shallow characters. The spelling was fairly good, but the punctuation needed work.

The other stories in the folder were similar – some better than I remembered and some worse than I could imagine. Being able to read these stories with an open mind was a great exercise. Ideally, we should all put ten years between our so-called final draft and the copy we submit to an editor, but that’s not practical.

Many how-to books and writing websites recommend putting distance between you and your writing, snipping that umbilical cord to gain some perspective. Almost every writer becomes emotionally attached to their writing. It is why we fight against any changes, scoff at negative comments and roll our eyes at helpful suggestions.

But we shouldn’t ignore comments by others. Helpful criticism is just that – helpful. If you feel like rejecting comments without considering them, put them away for a while. Comments, like our own stories, need time to ripen, time to become void of emotions.

After a week or two or a month, read the comments again and then read your story. Try and imagine the suggestions put into action. Does it make your story better? Or have the suggestions missed the mark? If you disagree with the suggestions, see if something can be tweaked to see avoid any future similar suggestions.

For example, the person reading one of my stories added a few words to describe how a character was feeling. It was a simple addition in place of a missing emotion, but the emotion the person added was the opposite of what I had in mind. So instead of ignoring or adding the suggestion, I added my own, giving the character the emotions I wanted her to have to avoid future misunderstandings.

You don’t have to toss things in the closet and forget about them, but . . . who knows, after several years, you might discover a gem, a gripping story or a photograph you’d love to share with the world.

11 thoughts on “Time and Forgetfulness Put Things into Perspective

  1. Yes, Diane, time provides a great lens through which to view our writing. Sometimes during a procrastination stage I will also start looking through the folders on my computer and read the long forgotten stories lurking there. I have a policy to never throw anything away; disk space is cheap. It would be nice to think that gems of gold were being discovered. Occasionally there are, but alas, all too often, I think: Goodness gracious, or some such exclamation, I hope I never showed that to anyone. The challenge then is to make it presentable.
    With regard to constructive criticism from others, I agree with you. We should consider all such suggestions. We have to realize that in most cases peope only offer their ideas because they care. Still criticism is criticism and makes most people bristle when it is aimed at them. I try not to react right away. In time, I’ll consider most suggestions. I encourage the critics as long as they don’t get upset if their advice is discarded.
    The bottom line is: the writing is mine.
    Anyway, Diane, I enjoyed your post.

    • I don’t throw anything way either. I have a few boxes with old manusrcipts and pieces of writing. Everything has potential; it just needs time to ripen.

      The nice thing about the passing of years is that we can spot those ‘oh, my gosh, did I write this?’ mistakes. Now we are better able to mould that story into something worth sharing.

      Thanks for commenting, Art. It’s good to see your new blog.

  2. Completely agree – but it’s a fine line, isn’t it? Wait too long, and the story can become dated, or you might fall into that just-one-more-revision pit that spins your writing wheels. I also loved the picture – did it motivate a story?

    • You’re right. That’s the other side of coin: revising, revising and revising, never being satisfied with what you have. There’s a point where one must say, “It’s done. Though it may not be perfect — like anything really is — I must send it out into the world.”

      Thanks for commenting. I love your avatar. I’m a sucker for stone structures.

  3. I think one of the most helpful hints is to step back from our work and give it some time. It’s remarkable what we see when we’ve been away. And you’re so right, Diane, we should also give ourselves some much needed time to mull over any comments or suggestions. How many writers send a story off before it is ready? I’m sure that happens more often then we want to think.

    • Distancing ourselves from our writing is something I didn’t learn until I was about thirty. My older stories had ripened, were almost 15 years old. They were interesting reads.

      I’m sure stories are sent that should be worked on more. But the opposite is also true. Some stories that are ready never get sent because the writer feels they aren’t good enough.

      Thanks, Laura.

  4. Ah, yes, the joys of skorts! I had a few too… although I’m not sure I have any photographic evidence. I love how the picture tells the story–the way you and your sister are standing, the fact that no cars are in the background and the feeling a viewer gets that something interesting has just happened. It’s a great image and you took it to a really interesting place in your post.

    Your point about stepping back from a story is so important–and a good example of why none of us should ever throw out old drafts!

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