How revisiting old writing can inspire new ideas
Shawna Ayoub Ainslie suggests a little time travel to light your way out of a writing rut—and offers a great exercise as guidance.
Sometimes the path to a new, exciting writing project leads back through a well-worn path.
Writers, when you’re stuck in a rut and it seems like you’re writing the same story over and over—or worse, you aren’t writing at all—try going backwards instead of forwards by blowing the dust off some old writing.
Revisiting a story, essay, poem, or chapter you completed months or even years ago can give you perspective on that piece AND the one that’s giving you trouble now. If the trouble is that you don’t have any works in progress at the moment, maybe you’ll realize the finished story wasn’t really finished after all. You might write a continuation, or a “where they are now”-type reflection. Immersing yourself in some of your favorite writing really is like time travel. You can re-conjure the ideas, imagery, and emotions that drove you before and use them as inspiration.
Best of all, looking back to work you finished can instill a sense of pride and help you remember: I’m a writer. We could all use that reminder once in a while, especially when feeling challenged to get to or stay on the page or screen.
Here’s an exercise called time capsuling to guide you on your journey:
Time Capsule writing exercise
Find a completed story, poem, essay or journal entry on a topic you haven’t worked with in a while but meant to revisit. After reading the piece, rewrite it. The whole thing.
This exercise takes upwards of an hour. The point is to fully disengage from a piece that has you stuck, giving your subconscious time to sift through it while your conscious mind stays in a creative, expressive space. Ideally, you can write to completion, but feel free to set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes and do what you can.
Return to the piece you are struggling with and read it beginning to end. Do any new ideas emerge? Did reworking an old piece flex your muscles to take on the challenging one? If you don’t have anything written yet, could you expand on a scene from the completed piece? Could you continue the story, or use a favorite image or bit of description as a prompt for something entirely different?
Worst case scenario: you need more time to think, but you still wrote today, and have a revision to show for it.
Have you ever looked back on an old piece of writing to start or finish a new piece? Will you try Shawna’s time capsule exercise? Share with us in the comments!
Related reading: 7 writing tips for moving from rut to routine
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