When you leave a book on a shelve and never touch it, it's going to get dusty. Same goes for any stationary knickknack. Fact of life. But maybe you've written something a while ago that you'd like to see published one day? For whatever reason, you decided to put it away and work on something else. Time has passed and you've learned new skills. You feel confident that you can fix whatever problems lie within your shelved MS.
Hold on. Don't jump into revision mode just yet. The longer your MS was sitting, the more dust its collected. Open it too fast and that dust will fly everywhere.
Your writing has improved since you put it away. No matter what, the old stuff will be messy in comparison to your recent work. There's no doubt you have a great story. Maybe the presentation needs work. Maybe the plot elements don't flow as well as you once thought. Whatever the issue, jumping right in might overwhelm and tempt you to shelf it again for who knows how long.
How can we avoid this dusty revision aversion? Here's a few ideas that might help you get passed that grimy layer that's keeping you from that desired rewrite.
Reacquaint Yourself - Approach the MS like a long lost friend. Sometimes we see how much we've changed compared to others who may not have changed at all. Similarly, your MS has not changed (if it has, you may have some revision gnomes - if so, can I have one?).
Read It - Pick it up (or print it out) and start reading, chapter by chapter. This could be the most painful experience your brain and/or ego has ever endured. Don't let it get to you. The more you cringe, the more you've improved. Learn of yourself. You might even gain a better appreciation for what agents go through.
Red It Up - After you've read a chapter, go through it again with a red pen. Remember, this isn't the editing stage. This is Pre-Manuscript Surgery (like marking where to make the incisions for later). Focus on what screams at you. Take notes on the side or between the lines. Bracket paragraphs that don't work. Highlight keeper lines that need to move elsewhere. Don't cut stuff out completely. You could reuse some of it.
Make The Choice - By the end, you will fall in love with your MS again or feel totally uninspired. If you're in love, your old MS is now prepped and ready for many long hours of editing. If it's not working for you at all, maybe it's not time to revise it yet. And maybe, just maybe, there's nothing you can do to fix it. That's a choice you have to make. Revise or move on to something new.
This is not the rule, just my thoughts on the matter. I have three novels, a trilogy, that will likely never see the light of day. Reader's have told me "that was a waste of five pages" and "you have some neat ideas, but your presentation is deplorable." This was after nine revisions. I could have taken offense to this and given up. Instead, I took it as an invitation to move on to new projects. Best writerly decision I've ever made.
No matter how dusty your shelved MS might be, there's something almost magical about picking up a book that you wrote and finished a long time ago. If you have one, maybe it's time to get reacquainted. Bring a duster.
Do you have a shelved MS? Do you plan to revise it someday? What has helped you wipe away the dust?
I'm David, and a Happy Birthday to Mr. Holmes!