Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Self-Measurement Through Writing

A couple weeks ago, Kyell was talking about how to measure your improvement as a writer. One of the things he recommends is going back through your old work from time to time, as you should be constantly acquiring better skills to evaluate your work.

This post on BLDGBLOG, which is usually about architecture, talks about measuring your progress through life by reading the same book every few years, or visiting the same building every few years. Oddly, I was just talking about this yesterday, how I remember the Circus Circus casino in Las Vegas as a big, glamorous place. I have a very vivid memory of standing right by the pit, because as a seven-year-old I wasn't allowed to go down in where the slot machines were. But Circus Circus was (and remains) one of the more kid-friendly casinos on the Strip. Returning there a few years ago, it seemed shabby to me, dirty and old, not as glamorous as it had been.

The problem with buildings is that they change while we are changing, so unlike a novel, it's not a fixed mark. Where Geoff of BLDGBLOG recommends going back and reading the same novel every few years, I think writers can go one better. You should go back and re-read when you can*, but you should also go back and examine your own work, to measure your growth as a person (what was important to you then? what were you writing about?) and as a writer (how have you matured? what mistakes did you make then?).

*My favorite books for re-reading, over the course of my life, are Susan Cooper's "The Dark Is Rising" series, though currently my favorites are probably the Harry Potter books, because I've been re-reading them every time a new one comes out and they hold up surprisingly well. But "The Dark Is Rising" has been on my bookshelf since 1976-77ish, and I've re-read them every few years. And I did not go see the movie.

I admit I don't spend a lot of time going back and re-reading my own work. Maybe in a couple years I'll revisit "Common and Precious," though I'm already embarrassed at some of the language errors I've come across just doing readings...


Gregory Hayes said...

Ha! I have had the same Circus Circus experience. However, not only has Circus Circus changed over time, but the economy of Vegas has as well.

I always have felt that CC (along with the water park across the street) pioneered the current family atmosphere of Vegas, making it almost acceptable to bring minors along on a business trip.

Vegas' collective business model has seemed to me to go through a transition, where family entertainment (e.g. non-gambling) in the mid-90's was insanely cheap, drawing in families and suck money from the susceptible parent(s), to a new model where entertainment once again commands a premium and Vegas is a destination in its own right.

The underlying principle of the place has always been the same. However, how we relate to it defines what we get out of it, and at what cost.

The comparison to a book remains apt.

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