Old Writing and the Mortification it Brings

If there’s anything I remember, it’s my first. Everything is still clear to me in vivid detail, like I could relive it again and again–the time of day, my position, the pencil scraping against the paper.

Oh, did I forget to mention that I’m referring to the first story I ever wrote? Because I am. What else could i possibly mean?

When I was in third grade, I wrote a short story (emphasis on the shortit was about a page front and back, but my handwriting was massive) about a girl who’s dared to enter a haunted toy shop on Halloween and is never seen again. The piece ends with a quasi-existential monologue about whether or not she should haunt the friends who dared her in the first place.

Of course, it was still a pretty horrible story, plus I wrote my S’s backwards throughout the whole thing, but it was my first. It was The One. That thing I kind of just wrote, only to realize afterward that I loved writing it. Like, a lot.

That was in no way my epiphany moment about wanting to be a writer since at that point I was still set on being Britney Spears when I grew up, but it was a start. It was the inciting incident. It was what made me continue writing.

We all have that piece. The one that lights the spark. The one that sucks so hard, we seriously debate building a bonfire at the beach to burn all traces that we were ever anything less than stellar writers.

But to that, I say don’t. Don’t ever ever ever burn your writing, no matter how mortifying it is.

When I was cleaning out my room a few weeks after coming home from school, I found a stack of notebooks filled with my old writing, spanning from fourth grade to just a few years ago. Needless to say, as I began to read through, my face grew hot and my heart raced. Add in my creative writing portfolios from high school, and I could barely breathe.

How, I thought, could I possibly have sucked this much? Hell, does this mean I suck now, too??

It was a moment of horror. I wanted to hole up under my bed and stay there forever, or at least until this rampant embarrassment storm passed. I nearly threw everything away.

But I didn’t. Something made me put all the old writing into an unused drawer in my desk, out of sight, but not gone forever.

You see, everything we ever write, no matter how unreadable, is another dot on our timeline as writers. As corny as it may sound, it’s those pieces that we can barely even look at because they’re so bad that really highlight how much we’ve improved. My writing from high school is immeasurably different than it is now, and I’d say that’s a very, very, VERY good thing.

Not only that, but sometimes old writing isn’t always as bad as we think it is. I was recently reading through something I’d written in ninth grade and found a sentence I loved, which is actually pretty impressive considering I basically try to block all of ninth grade out of my memory. (It was my pop-punk, Warped Tour phase, complete with elaborate eye makeup–we just don’t talk about it.)

But our own writing can inspire us. Ideas we had when we lacked the talent to write them can have new life. I can’t even count how many of my characters have been reborn in other pieces.

Plus, once we get past the embarrassment, we can truly see the hilarity in how awful our writing was.

When I was in sixth grade, I wrote what I was sure would be my bestseller. It never had a name, but the rough pitch was that it was about a girl named after a flower who was afraid of things, and also she’s in a movie. Clearly, it will never, in a trillion years, be a bestseller. But I laugh out loud every time I reread an excerpt from it, and it’s fun to try and figure out what my thought process possibly could’ve been if I thought that was a good idea.

At LeakyCon (a Harry Potter convention with a specific Lit track) last year, a slew of Penguin YA authors took part in a forum called “I Was a Teenage Writer,” where they reflect on and laugh at their old writing. But it also shows their growth. These authors are well-known, published, and respected, and at one point, they sucked, too. It’s universal to writers.

Why should we want to throw away all the work that led us to the way we are now?

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Old Writing and the Mortification it Brings

  1. This was an amazing read :)

  2. It’s like looking at your grade school pictures. I looked like that? When I read my young stuff, I realize how much I’ve grown.

    • Meredith

      Exactly! It really is like a personal timeline, frizzy hair-and-braces period and all!

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