It’s almost half way through November and the challenge of NaNoWriMo. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m using it mainly as a way to get into the habit of writing daily, and in a more focused way, rather than trying to get the first draft of a novel down (my writing is non-fiction anyway so that’s another deviation from the path…) And I should say that things are going pretty well. I’ve found time every day to write, even if that’s only to get a quick 500 words down in between other things. What is most heartening is to see the gradual accumulation of words, a bank of ideas that might develop into other things, later. As someone who struggles with procrastination I find it quite difficult to do things in a slow, regular way. I tend to launch into things at the last minute with a lot of surplus energy and just thrash about. Things get done that way, but you often end up with a lot of gaps – times when nothing much happens. All this regular, daily writing is filling those gaps. Little and often – it sounds like such a cliché but it really is a wonder to see.
Anyway, it dawned on me that I have no way of categorising or indexing all this writing. Which isn’t such a problem for the daily free-writing (which is mostly just stream-of-consciousness stuff out of my head) but for the focused pieces, where I’m starting to draw out ideas I may want to work on later, well – I need a plan! So, I’ve also been doing some research into nifty software and starting to go through the writing. But not only the recent writing, I have also been going through some really old stuff too. What is simultaneously disturbing and reassuring is how much I go over the same ground. I’m obviously concerned with some topics to such a great extent that I will pick up threads of them years apart. Perhaps, like with making, these themes within my writing are what make my work ‘mine’, what would make it distinguishable to someone else. Instead of seeing it as negative that I’m working at the same ideas over and over, maybe I should claim it as the field of my practice, what I’m engaged with.
And then there are the pieces of writing that are completely different from the others – mostly snippets of ideas or just a paragraph or a short poem – where I’ve felt compelled to write about something that arrested me. These are the pieces that I’m not sure where they will go, they kind of live on their own. Like this note, written after a trip to Tate Modern last year:
Louise Nevelson (An American tribute to the British people 1960-4)
Modular blocks, uniform unifying colour. Gold.
Like an altar piece but also like a home’s contents/furniture, broken down and packed up, contained, stored for shipping and possible reassembly.
It didn’t hold me enough to use it back then but now, with a house-move on the horizon and thoughts of what it means to create a home present in my mind, I wonder if it might be worth returning to that place. I can sense that within those notes there might be the kernels of new pieces, extended pieces, that might lead me somewhere a bit new. And that’s exciting. Now that I know where they are, and what they’re about, it will be so much easier in the future to retrieve these beginnings of things.
Revisiting old work can be beneficial to all creative practices. I regularly advocate taking time to reflect on your creative practice but in reality that is often asking yourself how things are going, if the work is working, if you are doing the things you most need to be doing. It’s a lot about process and execution. But, what if alongside the time spent thinking about how the work is going we also invest a bit of time reflecting on the work itself – the ideas behind the making/designing/writing/creating. Going back through old sketchbooks, photos, maquettes, samples, studio notebooks etc remembering which half-formed ideas held so much promise, which ideas made you excited. There are always so many reasons why we can’t take things forward, but just because you didn’t have time back then doesn’t mean the ideas weren’t good. Revisiting, revising, editing and breathing new life into things could lead to amazing new work.
When was the last time you revisited old ideas? Why not dedicate a wee bit of time to looking through some old work and mining it for possibilities?