Friday, December 17, 2010

Looking Back

By Russel D McLean

It’s strange to see your own evolution.

At the end of my US Tour (still in the midst of being recorded on my blog proper, because I’m ludicrously swamped with things to do right now) I recorded a short story of mine, dictated it into audio format for a (hopefully soon to be announced) podcast. It was an older short story, and it was strange to read it again, particularly cold. I could see themes and patterns that I couldn’t then, understand obsessions and ideas I would never have even realised possessed me when I wrote the story.

Time is wonderful like that.

It is an intriguing experience for me to go back to old projects. Every once in a while I dig out what was supposed to be The Big Speculative/Slipstream Novel and read it over thinking about what I would do differently, marvelling at how differently I approached writing it back then, and how it shows the ways in which my mind used to work. No doubt I shall look back at my first two published novels in a few years time with a similar mixture of pride and confusion, wondering how I couldn’t see things then that are so clear with hindsight.

It’s also interesting to me seeing not only the things that have changed, but the things that stay the same. There are themes I cannot escape and ideas and motifs I am still obsessed with, despite a change of genre and hopefully a maturing of my world views (I was in my late teens and early twenties when I wrote the SF novels and in my mid-twenties when I wrote the recorded story). There are themes I notice that perhaps others don’t.

Looking back at early work can be a horrific experience. There is plenty you want to change, and even recording that early short I know I did some on the fly editing when I felt a particular sentence didn’t sound right. I’m sure that annoyed the editor who asked me to do it, but I hope the end result was a good one and I know that I did it for reasons of repetition, deviation or downright idiocy that you only see after five years, and even then probably only if you’re the author of the piece.

The thing is though that you have to look back every once in a while. I’m sure I’m paraphrasing someone much wiser than myself when I say that to know where you’re going you have to look at where you’ve been. Looking back at old work reminds me of what I can do well and what I need to work on. It reminds me of great ideas I wasn’t ready to tackle and bad ideas I really shouldn’t try and confront again if I know what’s good for me.

But most of all, if I can approach it with a healthy sense of humour, sometimes looking back at the writer I was is just entertaining. For me if no one else…

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