I can’t say that I look back at my old writing very often, but I do have a distinct memory of doing so once. I was about fifteen, getting re-initiated into the world of writing and dying to write the next modern day masterpiece, when I stumbled upon an old story I had written. Curiosity got a hold of me, and I sat down and read through the whole thing. It was bad, very bad, and I laughed and cringed at my twelve year-old self who somehow made every grammar mistake and missed every typo in her sentences, while thinking that she was the best writer out there. More importantly than that, however, I realized that I had quite the story on my hands.
Sure the syntax was all wrong, the characters were dumb, weird things happened seemingly out of nowhere, and it was oddly comedic for a horror story, but by the end, through all of its mistakes, I found myself intrigued. There was a really great plot hidden underneath it all, just waiting for someone to bring it to its full potential. And that someone was me of course! So I restarted that story. I made it better and I had fun with it. Whether I finished that story or not (I didn’t) isn’t the real moral of this story, because in re-reading that old book, I found something that I didn’t think was possible.
At that time, I was beginning to worry that no matter what I did, I’d always look back at my work and hate it. Of course I thought I was a good writer, but I thought I was a good writer when I was 12 too, and that work sucked. What if no matter how much I improved or how much I practiced, I always looked back at my writing and felt embarrassed? It was a genuine fear that I had, and it made me feel less confident about my writing. I kept reminding myself that maybe it wasn’t actually as good as I wanted it to be, and I just had to wait till I was older to see all the flaws in it. But this experience taught me that even in the depths of a horrible novel trapped in the mind of an overly ambitious little girl, I still had something to be proud of. I had a really good concept and really good ideas at that age, and who knows? Maybe those ideas aren’t as impressive to me now, or maybe someone else would read them and roll their eyes, but in that moment I was unabashedly focused on me. I loved the idea of there being gold to find in my old work, and the fact that I had gotten better at writing and was at a point where I could improve my old stories was really special to me.
Despite my greatest fears, I was still a good writer, and deep down, I had always been.
Now, enough tooting my own horn, here’s how this little anecdote can help you. Often, reading old manuscripts or stories is seen as a daunting task by writers. It’s embarrassing, cringe-inducing and downright funny sometimes, especially if you’re looking at writing from a young age. The good side of looking at your old writing is often ignored in favour of laughter, shunning and even hatred of one’s old work, but writing should never be viewed this way.
Writing is a never-ending process, and no I’m not talking about how it seems like you’ll never finish the final draft of your screenplay, I’m talking about it in terms of mastery. There will never be a point where you simply know it all in writing, where you’ll never be stuck, or confused, or frustrated with your work. It seems obvious, but at times we can forget this simple fact and start aiming towards this impossible standard of perfection. This is what I imagine happens most times when we look at old writing.
Old writing should be a time to reflect. Even if there is absolutely nothing redeemable in something you wrote in your past, the least you can do is think of the progress you made. You are never going to write that exact story again. You may write something way better than it, and you may write something worse, but that story will always be there, as a permanent mark in your personal writing journey. This may seem a little harsh or undesirable, but I think it’s amazing that as writers (and artists in general) we all have living proof of our improvement and progress that we can look back on at any given moment. Even if you rewrite your story, or use the same plot or characters from it, you are still creating something new. With each reiteration of your work and as your experiment with new concepts and ideas, you are improving. It is impossible to get worse at writing, because everything you experience, read and write is helping you to foster that skill.
There is something beautiful and innocent about old writing. For me, my oldest writings were a bit foolish and unpredictable (in a bad way) but they were full of so much heart and love for the thing I was doing. I was super excited to write them, and I wasn’t worrying about deadlines, themes or word counts. I just wanted to show the world the vision floating around in my mind, and even if it turned out a bit murky, I accomplished what I set out to do. In some of my more recent writings (from the past few years or so), I’m a bit more critical of myself, but I still find things to enjoy. I take subtle notes of things I could’ve done better, I try to rewrite and reword different lines in my poems, but every now and then I will find something that shocks me. Something that makes me think: ‘Woah, I wrote that. I never thought that I’d be able to write anything like that’. In those moments, every time I was doubtful, embarrassed, or struggling to finish a story seems worth it, because I made something that I am truly impressed with.
I wasn’t born a great writer. None of us were. If one day I got up and wrote a story, and it was absolutely perfect and had no flaws, I can guarantee it wouldn’t be that impactful to me. The fact that I’ve sat down and reflected on my work, from when I barely knew how to properly space out paragraphs to something that’s worthy of publication or awards, makes me happy. It’s really my growth over the years that makes me appreciate my writing more. So take a look at your old writing. Dig deep into your old Wattpad or Ao3 accounts, or maybe something you wrote in first grade. Find out where you’re coming from, and even if you’re not that happy with where you are now, just know that you’re slowly making progress with every word you write. It’s impossible not to.
p.s. Don’t delete your old drafts!!
is a Canadian-Jamaican student, slowly making her way through the writing world. She aims to not only write, but be impactful and play her part in making the world a less judgemental and more accepting place for people everywhere.