Why you should always stay proud of your writing

This post came about after a brief email exchange last week with Richard Crowther, a fellow wordsmith and regular commenter on Write for Your Life.
As an afterthought to a more general conversation, we were both derogatory about some of our old writing. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but later I found myself questioning what I’d said.

Correct me in the comments section if you disagree, but I think it’s fair to say that most writers, at some point, feel either embarrassed by or somehow divorced from a lot of their earlier work.

As writers, we have a tendency, a need almost, to think that whatever we’re currently writing is our best work yet.

And that stands to reason, of course. Because although the very best writing requires that special indescribable something, essentially, it’s still a craft. It’s something that we can work on.

The more we write, the better we get.

Repeat after me: I write, and I’m proud

So, if we accept that practice makes, well, not perfect, but for improvement and progression, then are we right to feel a little red-faced about the things we wrote, say, a couple of years ago?

Well, of course not. And here’s why:

  • Old writing gives you a benchmark
    When you revisit old work, you need to make a simple distinction, and then use it to your advantage. If you think it’s awful, acknowledge it for what it was and use it to measure how far you’ve come, and where you can still improve. If it’s wonderful and chest-beatingly brilliant, you know the standard you’ve set and need to strive for and surpass from now on.
  • All writing is of its time
    Can’t bear to reread your collection of heartbreak-laden poetry that you wrote following the split from your first boyfriend or girlfriend? Grit your teeth and go and read it immediately. Remember, that’s how you felt at the time and by writing those poems, you’ve become better at your craft. Don’t bin your work. Assign it to a certain time in your life, stick your chest out and be proud.
  • All writers are in the same boat
    If you think you’re the only one to look back at old work and cringe, you’re wrong. We all do it and it’s just part of the writing process. No one writes perfectly at the first attempt. Novels, poems, scripts, articles and blog posts – they all go through several drafts. Accept it. Be proud of your commitment to getting it right.

As a little treat, I’ve managed to dig out the first poem I ever wrote. It’s terrible, of course (I have long given up writing poetry). But I’m terribly proud of it, because to this day I remember my English teacher’s kind feedback. And then my decision to write another poem. And another.

You can download He is the Pint Glass here and now. Don’t laugh.

Share your thoughts

Do you look back in anger or mild embarrassment when you think about your past scribblings? Are you a serial shredder or do you keep all your old writing for prosperity? Let us know in the comments section.

  1. In my case, I’ve kept a lot of my writings from when I was a teenager. And in my case I’m disgusted uncreative and boring my writing has become since then. I blame it all on college, of course; the stiffness of university writing (and the lack of writing in general) sapped my abilities and made me forget the joy that can be found in writing.
    So I try not to look back not because it was bad writing, but because it was better than what I can write now. At the same time, of course, I find inspiration in these old writings.

  2. File this under’ “Confessions of a writing pack rat.”
    I keep it all. It’s great fun to go back and read the old stuff. There are some cringe moments, but it’s easier to take a lighthearted approach when they’re older.

    Very inspiring post here, my friend. I love seeing you show up in my email.

    Cheers

    George

  3. Mmm…this is hard for me. There are some things I am quite proud of, but there’s another large pile that makes me cringe when I think of it. Self-indulgent, vain, whiny — but like Julia Cameron says, you have to put it all out there, and then refine the best. (Or something like that.)
    Great post, though. It’s a challenge I’d be willing to take.

  4. As a recent blogger that has procrastinated on starting a blog for several years, I definitely cringe at everything I write, be it a blog post or a comment.What I’ve found in the last few months is that as I write more, it seems to get better(at least to me) and I’m able to get past the strong criticisms of my inner critic.
    It’s good to know that not all bloggers and writers are super confident of every word that they put out for the world. It makes me beat myself up a little less.
    Thanks for these encouraging words to write more and better.

  5. As you’ve said – all writing has its place and is valuable in some way. I really enjoy a lot of the things I’ve written in the past, time makes it easier to see where I went wrong and what I can do to fix problems on the pieces that induce cringes though.

  6. […] back out there. You know, just in case some lunatic wants to read it. Besides, I recently read an article on the thoroughly decent Write for Your Life blog about how you should not be ashamed of ghastly stuff you’ve written in the past. Oh, and […]

  7. […] Do you look back in anger or mild embarrassment when you think about your past scribblings? Are you a serial shredder or do you keep all your old writing for prosperity? Let us know in the comments section. […]

  8. Some really encouraging talk here. It was really what I needed to hear after hours and hours of backtracking through old files, dealing with the embarrassment that came from each page.

  9. “I write, and I’m proud.”
    What a great topic for a post, and so nicely put, Iain.

    What immediately came to mind was all those embarrassing old photos – the leg-warmers, the Jordache jeans, the oversized ‘Frankie Say Relax” t-shirts, the Flock of Seagulls haircuts or whatever. They look so silly now, but they were “of the time,” too, and reminiscent of some other significant period in our lives.

    Thanks for this. I’ll go back and look at my old scribblings in a new light.

  10. I love writing, but i do find that when i write, im constantly looking out for mistakes in my work, so it true that writers should be more proud of thier work, and accept that you cannot be perfect at anything from the get go. Practice makes room for improvement, improvement paves the way to excellence.

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