All writers have a stack of unfinished or unpolished or just plain disappointing stories tucked safely away in a dusty cupboard / server, never to see the light of day. It’s the nature of the beast – you can’t learn without making mistakes, but you can’t bear to part with those mistakes because they were your first darlings and the faint belief persists that, with just a little bit of tweaking, they might be perfect one day.
I have recently come to accept that this is untrue. My early forays into novel writing, whilst valuable, were flawed beyond redemption. That book that I spent a year slaving over, with the beloved characters and world and dialogue? Overly complex and riddled with plot holes. It is for its own good, really, that I have finally put a bullet through its head and cut up its corpse.
Because, and this is the saving grace, there will always be nuggets of greatness in that early work. Without them, you probably wouldn’t still be inspired to write. Once you accept that the main carcass is nonredeemable, you can butcher it and recycle those nuggets. It may be a few particularly good lines of dialogue, or a background culture, or a character relationship. Whatever it is, review it with a jaundiced eye free of any sentimentality and then don’t be afraid to save it.
One word of caution though – there are pitfalls that come with this. Using old material risks you following the same old thought patterns and falling into the same mistakes. Recycling doesn’t mean the new lessons go out the window – they should be applied even more consciously to ensure that this second chance you’re giving your past work is the best chance possible.