Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Do you re-read your books when you're finished writing them?


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."

Am I just crazy? Do you ever dip into your old novels and surprise yourself with parts you forgot writing? Is there a fun re-reading experience I'm missing out on? 

Art: An Old Man Reading by Willem van Mieris






58 comments:

haydenthorne.com said...

*raises hand* I do. And I do it for the reason you noted, i.e., I want to see if my editor and I've cleaned up the sucker till it's spotless on the final printed (or digital) page. Always end up disappointed, of course, but it's an obsession. I... can't... stop...

I think I need help.

Stephen Parrish said...

I don't know why, but I can't conceive of reading something again after it's published. Maybe I'm afraid of finding mistakes. Maybe I want to let the dead rest in peace.

Kristi Lea said...

Re-reading can be harrowing. i picked up a copy of one novel to double-check the spelling of a side character (for whom I was writing a related short-story). And found that the character's name had a typo in one scene that neither I nor the editor had caught. Ouch.

Nothing of mine's been translated into another language. I imagine that if that ever happens, that I will not want to read the outcome (well, the Spanish..I can only vaguely guess at French and don't read any other languages). I'd probably spend too much energy fussing about the word choices that the translator made, and then second-guessing my own writing that lead to the word choices, then second-guessing my language skills wondering whether I really know the other language or not.

Jenni Wiltz said...

I recently decided to do CreateSpace copies of my ebooks, which means I had to go through and proofread them yet again. I found a couple small errors, which was embarrassing, but overall, I still liked the stories and the characters. I was pleasantly surprised...but I still dread opening those files. I get the same feeling in the pit of my stomach as when I have to go do the dentist. I'd much rather never ever look at them again, which is why I've never written a sequel.

Matthew MacNish said...

When I first saw the title, I was thinking manuscripts for a moment, so I was shocked. With published books? Meh. I probably wouldn't read them either. I already know what happens.

Mirka Breen said...

With you and Ms. Abbott here. By the time the book is out there for others, it is old writing for me. Not the way I write *now.*

Peter Dudley said...

In writing the second book in my series, and now writing the third, I have had to go back to the first numerous times for verification of some fact, timeline nuance, minor character reference, etc. Frequently I catch myself rereading whole chapters because I enjoy them so much.

(And no, I'm not the type to stop and stare at myself in any mirror I happen to pass by.)

But no, I wouldn't pick up one of my books and start at the beginning just for fun. There are too many other authors I haven't read yet, and life is short.

Two Flights Down said...

I can't read novels once I'm finished. I have a difficult time turning off editor mode with my own work. I found the same thing with acting. I can't watch videos of myself or movies (student movies) I've been in. It creeps me out to see myself on screen.

Rachel Neumeier said...

Good heavens, really? I didn't know I was so unusual for sometimes enjoying reading large chunks of my already published books. Actually, this is one way I can get in the mood to start a new one!

I also genuinely enjoyed listening to the audio versions after they were out.

Author Cynthia Vespia said...

I'm with you Nathan, if I reread my stuff I always see what could've been better.

After constant revisions, editing, etc. I get a little burnt out on it.

Only if its been literal years since I've visited the story can I enjoy what I initially put on paper.

Anonymous said...

Interesting question! I do like reading articles once they've been published, to see the formatting/etc.

I'm not sure if I would read my book - I think I might. Then again, I'm the kind of person who flips through old pictures on my iphone 20 times a day...sooo...can't vote as the NORM but I vote, anyway ;)

I think I would just like to get the experience someone has when they read it from an actual book - holding it, turning the pages. It might feel like a different story, then. I want to know what that feels like.

Okay, weirdness over for one day! Thanks for the question!

Elizabeth Maria Naranjo said...

I'm with Peter and Rachel. I promise I'm not vain but I truly like reading my book after I've put it away for a few months. It feels like someone else wrote it.
BUT it hasn't been published yet. I know you mean after it's been published, so we'll see. So far there's always been that comfort of knowing I can change something (and I still do; I can't stop, grrr). When that's out of my control, I might not be able to handle reading the book again!

Melanie Schulz said...

I do, because I'm writing a trilogy, and I want to keep myself in the characters, but I can definitely see your point. I have more than my fair share of Homer Simpson "Doh!" moments.

Beth said...

After my first book came out, I thought it would be fun to read it again, now that it had a spine. I lasted until page 2. I've never tried to read another one of my books since - it's way too harrowing.

Bryan Russell said...

Only if I want to rewrite it.

Cynthia Washburn said...

I have to leave it for at least six months, maybe more. But then I can re-read it and even laugh at the funny parts.

Kitty Bucholtz said...

Yes, I read/skim the final proof before it goes to print (I self-publish) to catch all those errors I'm sure weren't there before. (LOL!) But I often find myself really reading, not just looking for errors, because I'll get to a part that is really fun or funny. When I catch myself laughing out loud, I remember this is not what I'm supposed to be doing right now. But it makes me happy, and that gives me energy to finish the final once-over.

And, because there are parts that I love to read over and over because they make me laugh, I do occasionally find myself thumbing through a copy for some other reason and then stopping to read and laugh. It's part of what makes me love my job! :)

Melissa A. Petreshock said...

Writing a trilogy, I'm unsure I could NOT re-read my first book once it releases in March. I think I'll return to it again as I progress through the other books and the additional standalone novels spinning off with secondary characters. It's the heart of the story and its origins.

That being said, I can imagine having some horrifying moments finding things my editor and I don't catch or wishing I'd written something a bit differently here or there. However, I thoroughly love the characters and their world and plan to be writing within that world for some time to come, so I don't know that I'll shelve it and walk away.

Maybe I'll feel differently later.

Drew said...

You shouldn't force yourself to re-read old work, but if you do you can learn a lot about what you've done right, wrong and feel good about how far you've come if there is stuff you know you'd never get so glaringly wrong again.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I had to revisit for the audio version (to proof it), but that was a different experience. In fact, in that case, I actually enjoyed it. But usually? No. I avoid it whenever possible.

Karen Ranney said...

I've never re-read any of my old books and I've written 40 of them.

Last year I wanted to put my backlist up so I was forced to read books written 20 years ago. I winced all the way through them.

When I finish a book, I get the distinct feeling that the characters turn and look at me and say, "That's enough now, go away."

Sandra Stiles said...

I tried once. I kept thinking I should have done this or that differently. So, no.

Lorijo Metz said...

I'm absolutely in agreement with you! Only if I have to read a portion of my book aloud at an event do I ever revisit it. This tends to be more with picture books than my novel.

Regina Richards said...

Just the thought makes me squeamish.

Bruce Bonafede said...

I do, I reread everything. Of course, that's not so unusual for people who trained as playwrights. Edward Albee once told this story on Dick Cavett's talk show: a regional theatre in Miami was doing a revival of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. This was 30 or 40 years after the play was a Broadway hit. Tennessee Williams showed up and told the director, "I have rewrites."

Lisa Shafer said...

Once I've read them the 100 or so times it takes to edit them thoroughly, I'm rather sick of them, so, no, I haven't gone back to re-read the published ones. Besides, I am sure I'd want to edit again if I did.

Cab Sav said...

I stayed friends with my ex. Meet them occasionally, have breakfast with them (never dinner, for some reason). I think I'd be the same with my novels.

I haven't been published yet, so I can't say what will happen then, but I have novels I've edited so much and so long that I swear I will never touch them again, then six months later I pick them up re-read the whole book in one sitting and absolutely loved them typos and all.

I'm pretty sure I'll be a re-reader.

Jaimie said...

I don't. I'm afraid I'll discover I suck.

wendy said...

My experience has been with ebooks independently published and manuscripts fine-tuned for decades. What sometimes happens is when scanning something I put the wrong slant or intent on something and think I've made an error, and if it's a ms, I rewrite for clarity. Then I might reread a month later and realise my mistake and change the sentence/s back to the original form. i wonder if our old work is sometimes better than it appears through this error of perception?

Magdalena Munro said...

I don't revisit my writing or my paintings when I judge them finished. It is intentional as I am fond of that which is raw. My husband, on the other hand, suffers from analysis paralysis and his wonderful novel simply sits there unread.

Steve MC said...

I scarcely ever reread my published writings, but if by chance I come across a page, it always strikes me that it must all be rewritten; this is how I should have written it.
- Tolstoy

Ginny said...

I'm definitely a "re-reader." Reading the published book is almost like seeing the whole thing through someone else's eyes; I can get a distance from the book that I couldn't get before, and that is helpful to me as a writer (though also harrowing -- "Why did I use that metaphor? Why? Why?").

M.C. Muhlenkamp said...

Come on, Nathan! Not even the Spanish translation? It's gotta be different in Spanish, though I can't be sure, since none of my books has been translated into Spanish ... yet. But it just has to be. I've read several books both in English and Spanish and they just read differently in my mind. I don't know how else to explain it. Anyway, enough of that. I do go back to re-read what I've previously written. But I'm weird about books, so you can't really trust my judgement. I've found myself re-reading other authors' books several times in a row, just because I loved them so much. Like I said, just weird. I learn something new about my writing whenever I go back and just read. Not to fix anything, just to enjoy the story.

J.C. Martin said...

The bumping into an old ex analogy is so apt! I don't read my published books for that very reason! Unless I'm planning on doing a re-release, I doubt I'll be re-visiting any of my old books. Maybe in a few dozen years' time...

Daniel Melbye said...

I dont. My mins has moved on to the next idea. Perhaps its a judgement on my writing, but after having spent so long reading and edting the damn things I just dont have the interest in going back to them.

Its not just authors either. I have read about many directors and actors who dont each watch their own films, ever.

Terin Tashi Miller said...

I recently had to, and did not enjoy it. It was for a 'revised edition' being put out by my publisher, and he wanted me to expand details in some parts to make some things clearer to new readers. Though I admit, he was ultimately correct in what he wanted, and it has improved (I believe) the book.

Fitzgerald tried to revise Gatsby, including its title, up until and even for a little while after it first was published.

The problem is, if you feel you're done with a book, you really don't want to be tinkering with it (at least, I don't). Your brain and everything else have moved on to your next project.

The request for revisions for a new edition came just as I'm embarking on another, totally different story, and preparing for my publisher to bring out my next book in what's become a trilogy with the same character as the first book.

I was, naturally, and like you, torn. I hate to be interrupted when my mind is focussed on an idea and, worse yet, to have to return to something I thought I was happily and pleasantly done with.

Though I also have to admit, all my friends know when I am done restoring my motorcycle (which I essentially am), I either will have to sell it and find another one to work on, or, as I am, keep improving upon it by replacing parts that are in better shape or newer, even though it's running well.

In other words, I do not like to re-read things I've finished. But I DO enjoy making them better if I'm given an opportunity...:)

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Nina Cornett said...

As with you, it feels awkward to me. I also don't like people I know reading the book, in spite of wanting to sell books, because of the same "awkward" factor. I'm afraid they won't like it and will be made uncomfortable about how to respond to me or deal with that.
Nina Cornett

Sophia said...

I do because I have to. I have two series going and I haven't been organized about creating a reference for all the important information from the early books yet, so I end up rereading because I can't remember a character's birthday or middle name or something. It is one of my goals to make that reference, though, because I really don't like rereading at all. It's just as you describe, Nathan.

Richard Mabry said...

Nathan, by the time I've written the first draft and all those that follow, then responded to an editorial letter, then revised in response to line edits, then proof-read the galley, I am thoroughly sick of my books. So, no, I never go back and re-read them. There's one exception: when I'm going to be speaking to a book club about a specific novel, I thumb through it to refresh my memory on the major points of the story. Otherwise, I find all of the plots running together.

adan said...

I can't say that, for me, it's yes/no.

Some older work, yuk! Please! Not now :-)

Yet, there are usually passages, and some few, but growing (I hope) number of works, usually my shorter pieces, that I really get a kick and, usually, a better chuckle out of them than the first time.

Also, and in glancing at the comments I saw someone already mentioning this, when listening to the audio version, many new things (pluses and minuses) come to light.

And finally (the above is all in regard to my fiction) as for my poetry, I often find the stuff that's a couple of decades old, to be pretty interesting; though not all of it. ;-)

So "maybe," factoring out the often expressed sentiment above, of being sick of a piece shortly after finishing all the revisions and editing, there can be a return to what sparked the creative process to begin with.

Interesting topic. Hope we hear more about it, thanks Nathan!

Anonymous said...

Yes, for me it's like running into an old friend, and fond memories rush back.

AD Starrling said...

I do! It sometimes amazes me to read stuff that I've written (in a good way, mostly). As I'm currently writing a series, I often have to dip into the first two novels to make sure I keep the recurring characters and timelines accurate.

Lori Schafer said...

I think I have both reactions. With certain sections, I think, Boy, I hope I never have to set eyes on THAT guy again. With others the old magic never fades; I never tire of bumping into them on the street and catching up over a cup of coffee, because who knows? It might just lead to something ;)

Nicole said...

I'm with Cab Sav on this one. In the immediate aftermath of editing/publishing, do I want to re-read them...no. A few years later, definitely! It's enjoyable - I love catching up with those characters and that world again - and it can be a great learning experience for future writing.

Cecelia Dowdy said...

Once my novel has gone to press, then I'm done. I've only re-read one of my published novels one time. It was a story that was dear to my heart, had been rejected numerous times over the years, and, well, I just had to read it.

Cindy Lou Who said...

Short answer, no. But I can't ever read it like a reader anyway. I drew up the plans. I built it. I put up the iron beams. I poured the molten iron. I mined the ore. I know everything. I love the finished structure. I love every bolt and rivet that went into it. But I can only see what I want the reader to see in my mind. Hopefully that is what they see on the page.

Susie said...

Very difficult for me to do, that's for sure. I can barely remember details of my first book (which is tough when I'm doing a book club or reading!) Ironically, I wrote the book that I wanted to read, and now its really tough to do so, for all the reasons mentioned above.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I'm a newspaper columnist, so no books here but because I've been advised by an editor to compile some columns for a book, (in kind of a unique way,) I been rereading as a reader.
Most of the time it's, ummmm I like that, or gee that's not bad but a few, I wrote that...what the hell was I thinking.
Overall I like what I labored on and what I'm adding. Now all I have to go is convince an agent that my vision is salable and that my editor knows what she's talking about.
Once the book is out there, will I reread it? Ask me then :)

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you allow anon comments on this thread, becaue I would never admit this in public to anyone.

But yes to all of your questions, except that one about you being crazy. I don't think that at all. You're one of the sane bloggers around.

I do, however, shamelessly indulge in re-reading some of my published books and I love every single word, sentence and paragraph. If that sounds like an ego trip, guilty as charged. It's not that way with all my books; just some. With others I cringe and wish I'd become a professional stripper.

Nemo said...

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 said...

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 said...

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 said...

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 said...

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.

Anonymous said...

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.

developmental-editor.com said...

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.

Joyce said...

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!

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