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How to revamp an old and horrible piece of writing into something useful?

Writers, especially the ones who started their work early (in teenage or childhood years) hoard tons of old text files in their writing folders – files that can neither be published (because of quality), nor discarded (because of sentiment). Today, I will teach you how to recycle an old piece into something you will be proud to show to the world.

Here are a few ideas of what you can do with an old text file after revamping it:

  • Incorporate it into the new novel you are writing (and save time).
  • Combine it with other revamped fragments to construct a new novel (and save effort).
  • Release it as a free stand alone story (and use it to gather new readers).
  • Turn it into a fan fiction of your own novel (and promote it this way).

Your writing folder is an El Dorado of abandoned prompts, fragments and even novels, all of which belong to you and can be used in any way. This sounds very exciting, however, before you jump up into old stuff, please keep in mind that:

  • The style of your older works might be completely different from your current style (in some way, it was another you  who had written them).
  • Your older works might be of such poor quality that you might be able to retrieve only a few scenes, and revamping might take more time than writing things from scratch.
  • You might feel really bored and frustrated during the revamping procress, as you will be dealing with writings that you have already abandoned once (and left abandoned for years).

I’ve always had the good habit of backing up my writing, which leaves me with a legacy of 12 years of my own writing. It keeps me a prisoner to my old style and old ideas, and sometimes I just want to break free. However, it would be a total waste to delete everything without thinking twice. So, I’ve decided to recycle and revamp what I can, and let go of the rest. If you want to read more on how to clean your writing folder, do it here.

And now, I’ll teach you how to revamp an old piece of writing.

STEP #1: Read your text

For the purpose of this blog post, we will work on a short  fragment of a Harry Potter fanfiction that I’ve written in 2007 (I was 13 years old back then). It’s not very good, and not really an indicator of my current style, so please, lower your expectations towards it.

The protagonist of the fanfiction is Mary Potter, the daughter of Harry and Ginny. She doesn’t want to go to Hogwarts for some reason, yet she has to.

The original version of this story was written in Polish. I translated it with Google to save time; I’m not going to fix translation mistakes now, since I will be rewriting this text anyways – so please just ignore them.

Warm days were ending very quickly. The last rays of the sun disappeared behind the horizon of the dark hills. However, the sky that day had a beautiful, specific color. It was like an orange blending with a delicate golden, slowly turning into gray.
“It’s magical…” Mary whispered, resting her elbows on the windowsill. She put her head on her shoulders and stared at the horizon.
Mary Potter was an extremely peculiar girl. She could spend time moving mountains. Today, however, she stopped by the window to admire the clouds.
Suddenly the floor creaked. Mary remained in her position when she felt the touch of one’s hand on her shoulder.
She turned her head slowly. She saw her mother’s smiling face. The red curls gracefully fell on her shoulders. Mary even dreamed of having such a hairstyle. Unfortunately her hair was maroon and always matted.
“Mary, it’s time for dinner,” Ginny said, leaning over her. “Are you studying the sky again?”
“I don’t want to go back to school.” Mary reluctantly removed her hands from the window sill. “I want to be on vacation!”
Ginny sighed. Mary’s reluctance to go to school was terrifying. The girl has always been great and had lots of friends – so what was the problem?
“You have to go back … You can do it … Let’s go downstairs before Harry and Carla eat all the sandwiches!”
Mary smiled. Ginny left, closing the door quietly behind her. Mary looked again for the view outside the window. She saw Elly’s house standing nearby. She saw Godric’s Hollow – a city, in which dusk was slowly falling.

As you can see, this text is not that good. The language is basic and riddled with mistakes, the characters’ reactions are awkward, and reading doesn’t go smoothly. Let’s see what we can do with it to make it better!

STEP #2: Analyze the text OUTSIDE OF ITS CONTEXT

If we separate this text from the context (which is J. K. Rowling’s world), we will be left with a text about a girl who doesn’t want to return to school after summer vacation. Such a fragment is pretty universal, but we can only recycle it once, so we need to make a mindful choice, how to use its potential in the best possible way.

STEP #3: Try to put this text into A NEW, CHOSEN CONTEXT

I’ve always wanted to write a low effort teenage novella with lots of drama that takes place in a vampire academy. Let’s recycle this text into the first chapter of it. In order to put it into the teenage novella’s context, I’ll need to change some names, some facts and some words. I used the red marker so you can see changes right away:

Warm days were ending very quickly. The last rays of the sun disappeared behind the horizon of the dark hills. However, the sky that day had a beautiful, specific color. It was like an orange blending with a delicate golden, slowly turning into gray.
“It’s mesmerizing…” Natalie whispered, resting her elbows on the windowsill. She put her head on her shoulders and stared at the horizon.
Natalie Silber was an extremely peculiar girl. She could spend time moving mountains. Today, however, she stopped by the window to admire the clouds.
Suddenly the floor creaked. Natalie remained in her position when she felt the touch of one’s hand on her shoulder.
She turned her head slowly. She saw her mother’s smiling face. The maroon curls gracefully fell on her shoulders. Natalie even dreamed of having such a hairstyle. Unfortunately her hair was straight, thin and copper colored.

Natalie, it’s time for family reunion,” her mom said, leaning over her. “Are you studying the sky again?”
“I don’t want to go back to school.” Natalie reluctantly removed her hands from the window sill. “I want to be on vacation!”
Her mom sighed. Natalie reluctance to go to school was terrifying. The girl has always been great and had lots of friends – so what was the problem?
“You have to go back … You can do it … Let’s go downstairs before your dad and Stefanie drink all blood without us!

Natalie smiled. Mrs. Silber left, closing the door quietly behind her. Natalie looked again for the view outside the window. She saw Quinn’s house standing nearby. She saw dusk slowly falling on the valley.

This was quick and easy… it’s the next step which will require the most work:

STEP #4: Start developmental editing and don’t stop until the text looks like you’ve finished writing it minutes ago.

The reason why you need to do developmental editing, and not just express editing, is as follows:

You don’t want the reader to figure out that chapters 1, 3, 8 and 13 of your novel were written by your 13 year old self, the chapters 2, 4, 10 and 12 were written by your 15 year old self, and chapters 5, 6, 7 and 11 were written by your present self.

You must mask the fact that you’ve been stealing like crazy from your younger self’s writing treasury. Here’s how I’ve done it (follow the blue marker):

Warm days filled with sunlight were ending quicker now, indicating the inevitable beginning of October. Natalie Silber was sitting at the windowsill, with her elbows rested on its cool marble surface. She rested her chin on the palms of her hands and stared at the horizon.

It’s mesmerizing She thought, watching the last rays of the sun disappearing behind the hills. Even though it was gone, the sky kept its unusual color scheme. It was orange blending delicately into gold, which was slowly turning into glitter gray.

Natalie Silber was indeed a peculiar girl. A year ago at this time, she had enough energy to move mountains. Now, she could barely look at the landscape in front of her eyes. She found her gaze wandering pointlessly from cloud to cloud.

Suddenly, she heard the familiar creak of the old floorShe didn’t bother to move and remained in her position even when she felt someone’s hand on her shoulder. She turned her head slowly and saw her mother’s smiling face. She hasn’t changed at all ever since Natalie was born. She was a perpetually young and beautiful vampire, with perfect skin and maroon curls gracefully falling on her shoulders. Natalie had always felt jealous of them. Her hair was straight, thin and copper colored.

Natalie, it’s time for family reunion,” her mom said. “I’d like you spend more time with us, especially that within weeks you have to back to the academy.” 

I don’t want to go there,” Natalie reluctantly turned away from the windowsill to look her mother in the eyes. “I want to quit. Why can’t you just let me?

She had been begging her parents to transfer her to another academy, but they kept refusing. She knew that if she had told them the real reason, they’d understand. But, she had to keep it secret.

“Natalie, I don’t understand it,” her mom sighed. “It’s such a prestigious academy. Your grades are perfect and you have so many friends in there… Trust me, everything is going to be fine!”

“If you say so,” Natalie sent her a sad smile. She knew that this was a fight she wasn’t going to win, so she didn’t even want to continue this conversation.

Her mom sent her an encouraging smile.

“Let’s go downstairs before your dad and Stefanie drink all blood without us!

“I’ll be there in a moment, ok? I want to stay a few more minutes alone,” asked Natalie.

Mrs. Silber nodded and quietly closed the door behind her. Natalie turned her face to the window. She could see Quinn’s house standing nearby. Quinn was the only person who knew what had happened in the academy, and on whom Natalie could   count.

She sighed to herself, sad she couldn’t discuss it with her sister. She and Stefanie were of the same age, but they have grown apart after everything that had happened. One summer spent together wasn’t going to fix it.

Dusk was slowly falling on the valley. Natalie got up and went downstairs.

This text is much better and we could actually stop here, but let’s make it shine even more, so that it amazes us, and makes us believe that it was totally worth it to spend our time on it:

STEP #5: Replace simple words and phrases with more sophisticated ones.

There are two ways to do it:

  1. Reread the text, and if you get a better idea of how to express a thought that’s already on the screen, just go for it!
  2. Write down a list of words, idioms, facial expressions, gestures etc. to incorporate into your text, and then do it.

I personally prefer working with a list, especially that English isn’t my native language. I often create lists while reading or researching vocabulary, so I always have lots of new words to use – and I suggest you do the same!

Here’s the list that I’ve prepared for Natalie’s story:

  1. mahogany
  2. persimmon
  3. illusory reality
  4. lower one’s head
  5. take in a sharp breath
  6. reassure
  7. be lost forever
  8. elegant twisted bun (hair)
  9. smooth and sleek (hair)
  10. resplendent
  11. elliptical
  12. lunacy
  13. yet
  14. distinct from
  15. disturbing dream
  16. wooden
  17. pallid
  18. satisfactory

Now, I changed a few things in the text, using the words above and changing what I felt was necessary to improve the final result (pay attention to pink marker):

Warm days filled with sunlight were ending quicker now, indicating the inevitable beginning of October. Natalie Silber was sitting at the windowsill, with her elbows rested on its cool marble surface. She rested her chin on the palms of her hands and stared at the horizon.

The illusory reality of life is mesmerizing She thought, watching the last rays of the sun disappearing behind the hills. Even though it was gone, the sky kept its unusual color scheme. It was orange blending delicately into gold, which was slowly turning into glitter gray.

Natalie Silber was indeed a peculiar girl. A year ago at this time, she had enough energy to move mountains. Now, she could barely look at the landscape in front of her eyes. She felt like her personality was lost forever. She could spend a lot of time, doing nothing, just letting her gaze wander pointlessly from cloud to cloud. 

Suddenly, she heard the familiar creak of the old wooden floorShe didn’t bother to move and remained in her position even when she felt someone’s hand on her shoulder. She turned her head slowly and saw her mother’s smiling face.

She hasn’t changed at all ever since Natalie was born. She was a perpetually young and resplendent vampire, with perfect pallid skin and an elegant twisted bun with two mahogany curls gracefully falling on her cheeks. Natalie had always felt jealous of itHer own hair was so distinct from her mother’s – it was short, smooth and sleek, and persimmon  colored.

Natalie, it’s time for family reunion,” her mom said, adjusting her elliptical glasses. “I’d like you spend more time with us, especially that within weeks you have to back to the academy.” 

I don’t want to go there,” Natalie reluctantly turned away from the windowsill to look her mother in the eyes. “I want to quit. Why can’t you just let me? She lowered her head.

She had been begging her parents to transfer her to another academy, yet they kept refusing. She knew that if she had told them the real reason, they’d understand. But, she had to keep it secret. As if doing so could change it into a disturbing dream which can be forgotten within weeks…

“Natalie, I don’t understand it,” her mom took in a sharp breath“It’s such a prestigious academy, you worked so hard to get there, it’s lunacy to give it up now! Your grades are satisfactory and you have so many friends in there… Trust me, everything is going to be fine!” She reassured her.

“If you say so,” Natalie sent her a sad smile. She knew that this was a fight she wasn’t going to win, so she didn’t even want to continue this conversation.

Her mom sent her another encouraging smile.

“Let’s go downstairs before your dad and Stefanie drink all blood without us!

“I’ll be there in a moment, ok? I want to stay a few more minutes alone,” asked Natalie.

Mrs. Silber nodded and quietly closed the door behind her. Natalie turned her face to the window. She could see Quinn’s house. It was nearby. Quinn was the only person who knew what had happened in the academy, and on whom Natalie could count.

She sighed to herself, sad she couldn’t discuss it with her sister. Stefanie was of the same age, but they have grown apart after everything that had happened. One summer spent together wasn’t going to fix it.

Dusk was slowly falling on the valley. Natalie got up and went downstairs.”

And… We’re done!

It took some time, but I really like the final result. I’m much less tired than I’d be if I had to write this scene from scratch, and to be honest, I’m starting to feel excited about this story!

I hope it inspired you to revamp an old piece of your writing as well.

Feel free to post fragments here in the comments, so I can see your results!

Good luck!

Author:

Hi! I am an author. I've published my debut novel in 2015 in Poland ("Dokąd teraz popłynę?"). My main genre is fantasy and magical realism. I often discuss socially difficult topics in my works and try to pass on a message of hope. I am always inspired and I never stop writing. My writing inspirations are Bruno Schulz, Pablo Neruda, Kiran Desai and Haruki Murakami. In my private life I am a polyglot. I believe in the Law Of Attraction and I write about it on UltimateManifester at Wordpress.

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