Recently a writer whose work I adore, Daniel Keys Moran, made a comment that I haven’t been able to get out of my head. His major work, The Continuing Time, is a story he’s been telling himself/writing since he was a kid–ten or twelve years old. And he commented recently that he wondered what his 18-year-old self would think of the stories he was now telling: whether he would be angry, disappointed, what–because the stories he’s telling are not at all the ones he thought he would be writing when he was 18. The characters have changed, their journeys have changed, and their stories have changed. His exact words were “I hope my 18 year old self isn’t mad at me. This isn’t the [main character] he set out to write. But I’ve collaborated with that boy as best I can, and the things he thought and believed are not, on the whole, the things I think and believe today.”
I haven’t been able to get that question, that curiosity, out of my head. What do we owe ourselves as writers? What, specifically, do we owe our *younger* selves as writers? Because often our much younger selves are the ones who germinate the ideas we write years later. I have several cases of this in my own career, the most significant of which is THE QUEEN’S BASTARD, which (if you’ve read it this will make you choke) started out life as essentially a young adult novel. It, ah, it grew up along the way, and is now a book of sex, politics, murder and betrayal.
I’m not sure the…boy. 25?-year-old me? would be disappointed with what it turned out as, but she’d be startled. Probably just about as startled as I was when I came across the original notes & synopsis stuff I’d written for it, in fact. I’d known I’d reworked it extensively from the original concept, but I’d forgotten how straight-forward and innocent it had originally been. *I* like the story it ended up as more than her original idea, and I actually think she might be pleased with the skills on display in the book as-published. She *couldn’t* have told the story I ended up writing, because she didn’t have the skill set yet…but she would recognize herself in the writing regardless.
There’s another one, unpublished, that I’ve got about 50K written on and haven’t gone forward with in years. I mean, like, I haven’t worked on it since I lived in Alaska, six+ years ago, and I think it was more in the region of 2002 that I last prodded at it. That, after starting it in…possibly 1999. So when I go back to that one it’s *really* going to be a collaboration with my younger self, and I have no real idea what we’ll think of each other. (Of course, that’s the book that got the “Oh! You write really great plots & then drop in cardboard characters, right?” critique, so I have *some* idea of what’s going to need work… :)) I think in the end, though, that she and I will end up telling the strongest story we can, stronger than she could’ve done back in 1999, and it’s hard to imagine her being annoyed about that.
The big one for me, though, is my middle grade fantasy novel I wrote ten years ago. I’d been trying to write that book since I was twelve years old, and I’m *still* going through revisions on it to strengthen it. I can say with utter confidence that the 12 year old me would not be disappointed in me for what I’ve achieved with it as far as the story goes, though. I spent most of twenty years trying to achieve the simple ability to *tell* the story, and the fact that I succeeded at all resonates all the way back to my 12 year old self. It’s a book I would have wanted to read when I was 8-9-10, and that was what my 12 year old self wanted all along. She just didn’t know how to do it.
But all of that is a little different from DKM’s position, where he’s actually still telling the same story–the same characters, the same world, the same end game (I suspect, at least, that it’s the same end game)–that he started out telling when he was a pre-teen. I didn’t, of course, know him when the Continuing Time came to life in his mind, and I don’t know what his 18-year-old-self *thought* the story he’d be telling was, but…it’s hard for me to imagine that kid being disappointed with what his adult self has accomplished. Angry, yes, possibly, because that wasn’t how it was supposed to go!, but even at 18 a person can get over himself and recognize how “it wasn’t supposed to go like that” might just make for a better story.
My closest approximation to that is my Negotiator Trilogy, which underwent massive rewrites with every book. By the time I’d finished the first one, HEART OF STONE, it was a *completely* different book than the one it had started out as. Everything had changed–everything except the story. The story was the same from the first draft to the, uh, 5th total rewrite. And since that story is the one I was trying to tell all along, through all the different rewrites, revisions and trappings, I can’t say that the me who wrote it in 2002 was at all unhappy or displeased with the me who revised it into a totally different manuscript in 2006.
And I think ultimately that’s probably what the question comes down to, for me: has it served the story? Because all of us who are writers and storytellers, no matter if we’re collaborating with our pre-teen selves or with the writer who finished that draft last night. The best we can do is take who and what we are, what we’ve become through our lives and our years of developing as writers, and pour that into the stories we’re trying to tell. Maybe that means our teenage selves will be mad at us, but we’re doing the best we can by them and their dreams. The ungrateful little gits should appreciate that, at least!