The World is about the end of one journey and the beginning of another.
Should you rewrite old blog posts? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself recently.
The answer I’ve come to is—probably not. But it depends.
And, for the record, it’s not just blog posts. I have this temptation to go back and redo all sorts of old creative work. Every year, my skills improve, meaning that if I recreated something today, it would be so much better than the original. That haunts me.
Take my dining room. In it, I’ve hung a set of 10 space-themed posters I designed in 2014. Back then, I had just started using Photoshop; circles were easy to make. And while I’m far from proficient today, four years of on-and-off practice have sharpened my skills. A week or two of effort could revolutionize those posters.
My wife tells me not to do this. She says she likes them. She reminds me that visitors always appreciate them. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, I guess. But I’m a perfectionist and it’s hard to let these things go.
But, she is probably right. Here’s why:
The Case for Why You Should Never Rewrite Old Blog Posts (or Redo Old Work)
The idea already exists (and is therefore dead)
I know this article is supposed to be about old blog posts, but let’s stick with the posters for a minute. There is no compelling reason to redo them. Why not? Because they already exist. They are hanging in my dining room right now.
Are they perfect? No. Are they as good as they could be possibly be today, in 2018? No. But are they good enough? Yes.
“The life of the project is often in finding the idea. To ‘execute’ the idea, in some ways, it to kill it.”
If you buy into his take, then the equation is complete. The “idea” of the planet posters (or any old piece of work) has been found, and the idea has been executed. It is dead. Redoing them serves no purpose other than coddling your ego.
Your Talents Could Be Better Spent on Something New
With time, your skills improve. That’s what makes redoing old work so tempting.
As author Alain de Botton writes:
“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.”
But shouldn’t you just use those skills to give life to some new idea rather than retreading old ground? Taken to a silly extreme, the logic of rewriting old blog posts after you level up your writing skills means you should just rewrite the same 52 blog posts every year.
Instead, you should take what you’ve learned and create something brand new that you can be embarrassed of next year.
Redoing old work is actually harder than doing something new
Whenever I write about writing, I never pass up a chance to mention the piece of advice I find most helpful: write the first draft quickly, with no attention paid to quality. The more you agonize over the structure or which word to use, the more momentum you lose. Lose enough, and you’ll never finish. But if you let your fingers fly and get a first draft down, no matter how poor, you’ll at least have a roadmap from which you can write a much improved second draft.
Where this advice makes writing new things easy, it actually makes rewriting old things very hard. Because you originally wrote and published that old blog post, it’s carved its grooves into your brain. Improving it would likely involve changing the structure or existing organization, but it takes an incredible amount of effort to abandon what you’ve already invested in. As much as you want to ditch the old roadmap, you can’t. It’s like trying to forget the end of a book or movie.
In the end, you defeat the purpose of a rewrite. You end up creating a piece of writing that tries to honor the old while incorporating the new. It will be worse than if you’d just left the original alone.
So Why Am I Rewriting Old Blog Posts?
Because I’ve been in this liminal space waiting for my grad school program to begin (that’s starts today, actually), I’ve had a lot of extra time that I’m not used to having. There aren’t other creative projects demanding my attention at the moment, which means I’ve had to invent one.
Despite my very good argument against doing so, here is when I believe this rewrite is justified.
I have a specific reason for doing so (and that reason is not “I can do better”)
It is not modesty or self-deprecation to say that the improv-focused posts that started this blog are poorly written. As I said above, the ideas exist, and the ideas are good, but they aren’t presented in the most effective manner. They often take a simple idea and bury it in a swamp of irrelevant personal details.
I could (and given my own argument, should) just leave them alone and let readers pick through my old work for the improv insight. And I have, for four years. But I’ve come to realize that housing those posts on my blog website, immakingallthisup.com, doesn’t make a lot of sense. They are about improv, and I haven’t written about improv in several years.
I do, however, have another website dedicated entirely to improv—improvabc.com—where I promote and sell my book. Since those early articles inspired the book, it makes a lot more sense to host them there and use them as a representation of what readers can expect to find in Improv ABC (and my new book). But if I just copy and paste them on my other website, I’ll be doing my book a disservice. The old posts—mired as they are in personal stories—don’t accurately represent the quality of concise and straightforward information a reader should expect from Improv ABC. And so, I’ve talked myself into rewriting a lot of those posts to better reflect the book’s contents.
I have time (and it won’t interfere with my regular creative output)
Were I still working my 9-5 job, had I not had four weeks of free time, I would not have taken on this project. It is incredibly time consuming. It took me two full working days just to audit and organize my old articles. And a lot of those posts require more than a fresh coat of paint. Many of them have to be rewritten from scratch.
Because I have this free time, I’ve been able to update those posts without interfering with my weekly writing here. Were that not the case, I could not justify it.
Now that school is starting, I cannot honestly promise I will finish the project. As it stands, I’ve refreshed eight posts (which you can check out here), but there are a lot more to go. We’ll see.
Whether or not I do end up rewriting them all, I’ve learned a valuable lesson—rewriting old blog posts (or redoing old work in general) is more work than you can imagine. It is almost always better to just make peace with your old, embarrassing stuff. It’s part of the creative process.
As artist Caroline Zook says:
“The hard thing about including your art in a book that comes out two years later is that your style has changed. I knew that would happen. Are there pieces in the book that I look back on and cringe a little because my style has evolved? Sure. But that’s kind of the cool part about publishing a book. It’s like this snapshot of your work at a given moment in time.”
If you liked this week’s article, you’ll love my weekly newsletter. Each Monday, I share strategies to help you get inspired, master your limited time, and build sustainable creative habits. Sign up. You’ll like it.