Amanda brought up a point in her comment to "A Twist of Plot; A Tweak of Character" that I've pondered many times myself: how much of me is in each character and plot I write?
I found myself contemplating this a lot after two years of working on Temple. When I first started working on the novel, I was enamored with epic fantasies. All my favorite authors were epic fantasists. I loved the scope of this style, where each story was filled with an entire world of characters and thousands of pages in which to get to know them all. By the time I was finishing Temple, I was reading mostly modern fantasy—short 200-250 page books based in real time, real America, with a few magical twists. The pacing of these novels is completely different, as are a lot of the character types. My tastes had changed so much that I didn't want to continue writing a book which I then felt I would no longer read.
So as soon as I finished Temple, I took a few months off to give myself some space (and to not become depressed about nearly three years worth of work that potentially was not worth publishing). During one of those months, I wrote exactly the type of book that I now like reading. The Adventures of Madison Fox is a fast-paced modern fantasy with a lot of comedy. It's fun and a quick read. It's 211 pages. It was done in 30 days.
Writing that novel got all the doubts out of my head about my beloved Temple novel, and I was able to return to editing it without second-guessing everything. Madison served as a reminder of all the things I liked about epics that are not part of the slimmer, modern tales. (Ironically, I found myself wishing Madison was an epic fantasy at several points during that month, but I wisely realized that was merely the complaining voice of insanity that wanted to let the book-in-a-month goal sail by without facing the responsibility of creating an ending.)
Now, as I edit Temple, I find myself once again pondering Amanda's point. So many of the choices I'd made at the beginning of the novel were not exactly on par with where I wanted the story to go now. Parts and characters no longer fit with who I am today—they fit with who I was nearly three years ago. The early chapters are becoming over half new text, half reworked and reorganized old text just to make everything fit with the ending of the story. My mom, who is reading the book in chapters as I finish them, observed another change that I hadn't: she noticed that my average sentence length had shortened, which is not my "typical" writing style and is more true of the style in which I wrote Madison.
I know this phenomenon is not unique to me. I remember hearing Steven Spielberg say of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in a collector's edition released twenty or so years after the original that if he were to write this same movie again today, he would never have ended it the same way. The ending of the movie fit with the person he was twenty years prior, not the man he was today. His off-the-cuff comment rattles around in my head, surfacing at odd moments while I'm editing. Will I look back on these novels twenty years from now and wish I could end them differently?
If nothing else, it makes me want to finish my books faster. I know that I'm changing as a person every day—my tastes, beliefs, desires, and goals are subtly altering in a myriad of ways I'm hardly conscious of most of the time. However, over an extended period of time—say over the 2.5 years it took me to write Temple—these changes are more readily apparent (in more ways that just a different taste in novels). To keep a novel true to me (and to not have to extensively edit it), it would definitely behoove me to finish them quickly.