I already know what you’re thinking:
“Read my old writing? But it was terrible! I had no idea what I was doing when I was younger, I can’t even stand to look at that filth.”
You have really strong opinions about this, I get it. I am also a writer and I understand the deep rankling discomfort that surfaces whenever you look back at those pieces you wrote in middle school. Seriously, what was even going on back then? Why did I avoid the word ‘said’ like it was the plague? I was so clueless back then.
Listen to me. You have to look back at it.
As much as it hurts and stings to have your ego crushed by past failures, you will never move forward as a writer if you can’t identify those areas of improvement.
You have to be willing to go back over all those lines and ask yourself, “Why did I do this? Why doesn’t it sound good? What could I do to make it better?”
It’s not easy. Trust me when I say I’d rather dip my hand in acid than read the boring, flat, unimaginative, uninspired stories of my youth, but I have to remember how boring, flat, unimaginative, and uninspired they are if my next stories are ever going to be dynamic and interesting.
If I keep letting myself fall into the same ditches, then refuse to acquaint myself with what a ditch looks like, guess what I’m going to keep doing?
I’m going to keep falling into ditches. Over, and over, and over again.
Read those old pieces of writing. Was the dialogue bad? Find some way to make it better. You don’t have to edit it, you don’t have to dedicate time to fixing a piece that’s already long finished, but think about how you would improve it if you could. Employ that strategy on the next thing that you write. Learn and recognize that despite how much you’ve grown, you still have room for improvement.
Plus, it’s not always bad. You might occasionally run into a piece of writing that you really enjoy. Maybe it’s something that’s held up really well over the months and years since you wrote it. Maybe it’s something that has sentimental value for one reason or another. Maybe it’s something that just has really powerful wording that you can’t believe you came up with yourself.
These are some of the most valuable pieces because they remind you that you’ve succeeded before.
It’s not always a series of failures. There have been victories along the way, and it’s important to pay attention to that. Give yourself the credit you deserve! You’ve worked really hard for it.
Not to mention all the inspiration that can be gained from old pieces of writing. You could be reading something from two years ago and find a concept that you want to work with again. You could uncover something that rekindles your passion, you could pick up old dead projects because you have the time and skill to do them justice. There is so much untapped potential just waiting to be reached.
Don’t leave the future waiting. Examine the past, then keep on moving forward.