1. ladyphilosophy
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    ladyphilosophy Member

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    Embarrassing Juvenilia

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by ladyphilosophy, Oct 2, 2014.

    I was recently looking through all my old bits and pieces of writing from years ago that I have stored up on my laptop, and was wondering how other writers on here feel about old pieces of writing that they've revisited years later? How does the experience of reading your juvenilia impact on you? Do you find yourself feeling endeared by your past self's idea of good writing, impressed with how far you've come since then? Or is the experience of looking back on past creations so toe-curlingly frightful that you'd never choose to do it ever again? Have you ever gone back and found something that you'd forgotten writing about that you thought was actually really good?

    For me the experience of revisiting my amateurish rambles and rantings from when I was a wee girl is mostly so excruciating I can hardly bear to do so - and yet, from time to time there is actually something there, some long-forgotten idea or description, that makes me glad I revisited and decide to use again (albeit in a new story and with radical editing and re-contextualizing.) This doesn't happen often though, and normally the experience is just too, too painful that it's barely worth it.

    I keep wanting to delete all of my old files, especially when I think of the idea of dying unexpectedly and having someone read over them - how embarrassing would that be?? (I know, I know, I'd be dead and wouldn't care, but this is still an incredibly frightful thought to me). I find a lot of my old stuff superbly dreadful and can't stand the idea of anyone reading it. Still, it seems a shame to completely expunge them from existence - they are a part of my past, after all. I'm rather torn about it. What would be the point of keeping something that causes me so much pain to read? I'm going to keep the files for now, but still the temptation to obliterate them is so strong...
     
  2. S S
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    S S Active Member

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    I was asked by my English teacher a few years back to write a story about childhood. I couldn't find any pens that worked, then it struck me… I wrote about the childhood of a pencil… IN PENCIL! I gave the pencil a resentful communist persona. It was pretty interesting… but I failed the assignment.
     
  3. DeviouSquirrel
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    DeviouSquirrel Member

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    I hate reading my old stuff... Cringeworthy. But then that's why you write a first draft and leave it for a bit, isn't it? So you can see all the flaws more clearly. I guess it's the same principle... Just worse.

    Leah
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    It's often cringeworthy, but there are occasional gems of writing in there that can be extracted for later repurposing. I think it's a mistake to see a WIP or an abandoned project as an insular entity. You see it often in the way members post items to the workshop and fear it being taken or what if they want to publish it in the future, etc., but they feel compelled to post it because this is the thing that must be posted because this is the thing I am working on and you must help me to improve this thing right here, this WIP. This. I think that's a wrong way to see it, just my opinion. You should see every item you work on, finished or abandoned part way through as a facet of you the writer. You can always go back to an old something and pull from it, rework it, apply skills picked up later to what was abandoned previously.

    I have a piece that got to about 60k called (ugh) Ascend Dystopia. That's the real working title. It's just the worst. I was going through a phase in my life where I was very angry at religion and the story was nothing but a drawn out attack on organized religion. I was also working as a Russian interpreter in those days and I thought it would be fun to sprinkle Russian words throughout the work, because hey, Larry Niven did it in his Smoke Ring novels, so if he can get away with it - I would later learn to detest that phrase - why couldn't I? Anyway, just abismal. But... there are some areas of hope in the story. Pieces of prose, descriptions, inner dialogue, that can all be (and have been) repurposed.
     
  5. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm old, so my juvenilia isn't written on a computer. All my early stuff was in pen or typewriter, and it's all gone. I don't know where it is. I know my mom used to clean out my closet sometimes and found some of it (including some gay erotica), but she never mentioned it to me.

    The only writing I've done that still exists from the early days is some of my early gay erotica stories. It's not serious writing. They're awful. Nothing but typing practice, other than their obvious purpose. Some people have read them and have praised them, but not for the quality of writing, I can assure you! :eek:

    The earliest serious writing I have that still exists is something I have a love-hate relationship with. I worked on it a ton, and I think the prose is absolutely gorgeous. I thought so then and I still think so now. On the other hand, back then I was doing a lot more telling than showing, and large parts of it just don't work at all. Also, some of the plot points (and philosophical points) make me die of embarrassment. So nobody but me will ever read that stuff. :(
     
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  6. TDFuhringer
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    TDFuhringer Contributing Member Contributor

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    I found all my old writing recently. I even found the children's book I wrote back when I was about 11, for school. I found the first 10K words of my first attempt at a novel, back in '93. It's HORRIBLE. Maybe I should post some just for fun. If I can ever stop cringing that is. I can hardly believe the skill gap between then and now, and yet I'm still never completely satisfied. I thought my work was good then, but I was wrong. What if twenty years from now when I look at my current work, I think it's horrible too?
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    The story I mentioned is like that; I only have a yellowing hardcopy on continuous computer paper. The kind you had to rip the sides off of. You know the stuff. ;) I'm actually happy it's that way. It means that anything I pull from it has to be retyped, so there's less pull to just be lazy and copy-paste without really reworking.
     
  8. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I see glimmers of my style emerging in my old work so for me - no matter how embarrassing - it's also encouraging makes me think hey, even my stuff now could look like kids stuff in a few years if I keep progressing.

    Everyone grows in their talents but it's hard to see if you have no record of it. I've torn up stuff and regretted it because that's a whole stage in my writing development that's now totally lost. So I would never advice ever deleting everything. You want to look back and see the steps it took you to get where you are. It's like an artist they just don't up and paint something fabulous. I think they understand it and accept this easier than a writer. I think writer's are harder on themselves. Quite possibly because a wrong brush stroke seems less cataclysmic than a grammar or spelling error - everyone should know the grammar.

    I wish there were more books or websites showing these breadcrumb trails so that newbie writers ( or even just frustrated writers ) wouldn't compare their work to published, polished works and feel awful. I'd love to see what Stephen Kings first stories looked like and I'd love to know if he still has them.
     
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  9. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    This is the great thing about the new editions of Hemingway's works that have been coming out from Scribner. I have The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell To Arms in those editions, and they include early drafts and deleted chapters. It's instructive to read these, and also comforting to see that a Nobel Prize winner went through the same doubts, problems, and wrong turns the rest of us do. :)

    Masterpieces are almost never produced in the first draft. It takes loads of revisions, rewrites, and generally hard work to get something good, even for the most talented writers. These Hemingway editions help us see that.
     
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  10. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I recently found a load of my old short stories from when I first started writing as a teenager. All I felt was shame, sadness and shame. Though I must admit, my younger self is a better writer than I give him credit for.
     
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  11. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    We're too hard on ourselves! And to think we can quite easily praise a child for their 'crummy' artwork as the years go by we don't let ourselves be okay with each step of progress it's like it has to be perfect.
     
  12. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can't help but wonder whether he would be mortified to find out his early drafts are on show. He did say 'Every first draft is shit' after all.
     
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  13. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Why feel shame, though? Your observations of any lacking or poor quality in your younger work is undoubtedly a sign of things you have learned along the way, skill you have honed, and most important, a critical eye able to see the ugly in your own baby. ;)
     
  14. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    My only writing is posted here so I am stuck with it forever. My real question is to ladyphilosphy, where is Scoatland? Is there a hidden meaning in your avatar with the word coat? Just curious.
     
  15. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Because I imitated Lovecraft's style a bit too well, it shames me I could have been such a dork.
     
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  16. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think we all ape a favored writer in our early years, whether we realize it or not. Frank Herbert's Dune series so profoundly moved me that everything I wrote in those years paid attention to the minutest of details. All my protags were some flavor of Jessica or Paul, able to see what others do not, notice the banal and read the texture of happenstance to know what will come. Not even Frank himself kept to that particular idea/trope outside of the Dune universe. To this day, when I am ridden hard by my muse, I pack away all my reading lest some other writer's colors spill onto my palette.
     
  17. cutecat22
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    cutecat22 The Strange One Contributor

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    *covers face in embarrassment*

    I have three, one was done on a computer and then printed out. The other two were done half on an electric typewriter, half by hand and are both covered in tippex. They are all twenty years old and when I read them now, they do make me cringe - especially the names of the characters. But, one in particular has stayed with me for years and became the basis for my first fiction novel. A lot did change, including the character's names but the basic start, ending and main event, stayed pretty much the same.

    The original also had Italian in it too, only I had actually written the English translation in red pen underneath AND I had taken the Italian from an English/Italian dictionary at the library (remember libraries?) so it could actually be saying anything except what I wanted it to!

    I also dropped the dead twin sister from the story too ... and the broken back ... and the car accident ... and the coma ... hey, it was the 80's! :oops::oops:
     
  18. ladyphilosophy
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    ladyphilosophy Member

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    It's comforting to know that I'm not the only one feeling these things! I definitely do not think that my younger self is a better writer than I give her credit for, however - in fact, when I remember just how awesome a writer I thought I was back then, it brings me even more shame to think how terribly mistaken I was... I feel like saying to myself, "oh, dear. Please get over yourself. Stop using six adjectives in a row when only one is required and for the love of christ, quit WHINING!"

    But, perhaps we are too hard on ourselves. We all make mistakes, and we are always changing and developing and (hopefully) improving as writers, so we shouldn't scorn our past naivety, as it led us to where we are now.

    Oh, it isn't Scoatland but Scotland, I was just spelling it phonetically because I love the Scottish accent and that's how it sounds to me. I think it sounds funny, but I guess not everyone hears it that way. No hidden meaning intended! :)
     
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  19. ladyphilosophy
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    ladyphilosophy Member

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    This is my worst nightmare exactly... it's kind of unfounded because I'm not Hemingway and the world doesn't care one bit about my silly thirteen-year-old ramblings, and yet I still find myself waking in a cold sweat at the mere thought of this happening!
     
  20. elynne
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    elynne Active Member

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    I have the heart of a librarian (in a jar, on a shelf, under "L sub H"), so I tend to cling to all my old writing. I have several files of stuff that I wrote pre-computer/pre-internet, which I need to transcribe and archive properly at some point, as well as hundreds of thousands of words on various projects, snippets, and ramblings squirreled away in various places. sometimes I'm depressed by how good some of my old stuff is, and convinced I'll never be that good again. most of the time I'm amused by Past Me's enthusiasm, naivety, and desperate drive to express myself that resulted in an avalanche of words, none of which I've really outgrown. which is, of course, why I'm still writing. ;)
     
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  21. Poet of Gore
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    Poet of Gore Member

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    i lost my old ninja stories i wrote. it is sad.
     
  22. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    They've done it to loads of writers over the years, some who expressly asked their friends and family to burn all unfinished stuff (I think Kafka did this) and it ended up published. Total invasion of privacy if you ask me.
     
  23. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    What always makes me laugh is that no one wants to read the private jottings as drivel until their writer becomes an established name. Then suddenly it becomes the gold-plated buddings of genius, and fantastic in their own right.

    You see this with every big name writer. Even Shakespeare, whose sonnets are hailed the world over as masterworks, the highest expressions of love and beauty that the English language can possibly obtain. In reality some are pretty shit, some are stupid, a lot are not about love at all - the first 17 sonnets can be summed up as 'You know you are going to die one day ... BABIES! MAKE BABIES! HAVE CHILDREN!'
     
  24. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    All the longer works where on a computer my mom threw to the junkyard, so I haven't had the questionable pleasure to read them. One copy of a pony book I wrote and gave to my friend when I was around 12 is on a floppy disk, and she claims she still has it somewhere, so if it resurfaces, it might be awfultastic to read it.

    I don't even have to go back to my teenage years to find something awful. All I need to do is to go back to 2007 and my and @T.Trian 's first draft of our first manuscript. A terrible brainsore, but I guess it being our first attempt still makes it worth saving. You love it dearly despite the deficiencies. 'cause it was The First.
     
  25. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    You should see my imitations of Nabokov. *cringe *. One whole version of a novel ( written 'Nabokov' style - or rather how I misinterpreted it - windy and woozy ) could be a candidate if Bulwer-Lytton ever had a novel contest.
     

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