There is something to be said for revisiting old work. Every time we create something, we should learn from the experience and carry that forward into the next project. Maybe we learned a new technique. Or maybe we experimented with techniques and approaches, finding a new way to do something. But we really don’t know if we don’t periodically review what we’ve done. Reflecting on old work also allows us to explore the topics or themes we’ve addressed more deeply, and to explore them through different lenses. When we take that closer look, we can identify patterns that we want to bring out and moments that inspire us as we continue on into the next project. Taking that moment to reconnect and reflect on past projects is what leads to skill development, creativity, and innovation in our work.
But gatekeepers, regardless of their medium, too often see a successful piece of work and want to hold on to that success. Untrained to really look for the fresh views a seasoned creator can bring (and it’s really interesting to hear long-time editors from publishing discuss this), the gatekeeper will insist on turning the initial success into a template for future success, the old “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset…that shuts down the creativity and innovation necessary to build a rich body of work.
The template can come in various forms. They may push for a sequel, regardless of whether or not the original work has the proper hooks built in to facilitate one. (It says something that advice to newer writers is starting to increasingly include a bit about making sure to build in hooks from the start.) The gatekeepers may also push for presenting the story in a different medium, regardless of how well it’s suited to that new medium. How many books do we currently have that have been turned into a movie, television, or video game property? How many video games?
So, who should address this divide between the growing creator and the (often unintentionally) stifling gatekeeper? It has to start with the creators pushing their work and their skills in new directions. We need to teach both gatekeepers and audiences to eschew trends and to learn to ask, “What’s next?”. Audiences are already expressing a restlessness for something “new”. After years of seeing favorite characters and worlds brave new media and poor sequels and adaptations, audiences are, in a sense, developing their own media literacy, information literacy, and imagination based on their consuming experience. But if creators have to keep rehashing work that was never meant to be rehashed, then they don’t get to develop their skills, and then audiences can’t develop their ability to discern what they’re consuming.