Monday, 22 January 2018

Better Delete That! - Reading Older Works and Getting Over the Embarrassment

You're a writer striving for success. Perhaps you're on your second, third, fourth, fifth, or even tenth novel. Or maybe you are a poet that has been published in magazines a few times. Regardless of the type of content you write, you're feeling pretty good about your current project. That forth novel is always on your mind, and it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling when you sit at your desk to write. The poem that you're now drafting for a submission is filled with inspiration and metaphors, and you just know that it will mean a lot to future readers. Despite the motivation and positive feelings during those moments, there is a seed of doubt in the back of your mind.
Waking up at four in the morning, the one thought in your head is: "Better delete that!". Whether that be the first self-published eBook that you, as an indie author just starting out in the business, put together for Amazon, a terrible fanfiction that is still online from your early high school years, or just some old short stories cluttering up your writing folder, dreams of previous writing ventures have been manifesting in your subconscious. A sense of embarrassment, shame, or even guilt over your first or first few writing projects has cast a sense of doom or panic over your current work, and the lovely, dream-like vision of success or pride has been swiped away as you stare up at the ceiling and try to get back to sleep.

Keys at Chatsworth - © Ellie Morris

Recently I have experienced a nagging in my day to day thoughts, as well as during my sleep. I think back to certain rookie mistakes I have made with historical period facts, characterisations, and plot holes. And then I wonder who else noticed these irritating inconsistencies...
Whilst my first two novels, When the Summer Ends and Mansions of Glass, aren't terrible, and even my very old fanfictions still garner some positive comments and favourites online, I still think back to particular lines or characters' portrayals, and my cheeks flare red with embarrassment.
It tarnishes the current project a little, and I worry that every single person that has ever read my books thinks that I'm completely ridiculous. Or, even worse, a fraud.

I think most authors or writers have been through this at a certain point. Whether they are newcomers to the hobby or profession, or long-standing, well-known authors that are making major cash even as they sleep - everyone has a sudden jolt when they remember works from years ago.

We need to see this experience as it truly is, though. In my opinion, fretting over older projects is actually due to worry and doubt over current work. Everybody wants their latest work to be as successful as possible, and perhaps even perfect on the first draft (the latter is known to be near impossible, however!).
The feeling that your older works didn't grow to be quite as successful as you first envisioned; that even when re-reading it, what you once thought to be the bee's knees doesn't even meet your own criteria this time; or maybe a sense of guilt for what that first idea - the one that gave you so much joy and enthusiasm, provoking you to spend increasing amounts of time on what some people call their "babies" - could have been... All or any of these could be the reason why doubt continues to tug on your sleeve at every corner, slowing down your progress or even causing a complete halt in your productivity. 

Nobody beats themselves up quite like a perfectionist! But now it is time to let go of that pesky self-doubt that sits on your shoulder and crawls inside your dreaming mind.

Here are some steps that you could try to utilise next time the slimy creature whispers in your ear:

1) Realise what it really is that is playing on your mind.
It's not the fact that your older works are mortifyingly awful and deserve to be deleted from all existence. In fact, your first few pieces may be a lot better than what you give yourself credit for! Or, even if it isn't exactly the type of book that English Literature professors will be studying in thirty years time, it doesn't mean that you're doomed to fail in every single thing that you write now and in the future. It is really what you're working on NOW that matters, which is what may be bothering you beneath the surface.

2) Take note of your previous mistakes.
But don't bully yourself over them. If you notice a mistake when reading through, write what you didn't like about it down, learn from it, and move on. It may be a good exercise in furthering your knowledge in grammar, scene progression, character emotions, editing, or story arcs, etc.

3) Find humour in what embarrassed you.
I can guarantee that some older stories will be hilarious to relive! I had a good laugh pouring through my printed copy of When the Summer Ends, not only because I realised that my old story was like reading a dark comedy (whereas at the time I found it deadly serious and emotive), but because I genuinely wanted to make it humorous at the time. It includes little jokes and experiences from my day-to-day life back then (2014-15 really), as well as elements of my own character and old thoughts that I had forgotten. It was like a piece of myself from those years, inserted into my own characters and plots, vibrant and fun for me because I could remember my train of thought and interests from back then. Have you ever read an old diary and thought "Oh dear, I must have been insufferable! I can't believe how cringey I was back then!"? It's a bit like that, but you can shift the blame onto your beloved lead characters more often than not. 
Be lighthearted and laugh at your insecurities!

4) Know that you are constantly learning and improving, and you are not a fraud.
Not many other people will notice what was so glaringly obvious to you, in most cases. Nobody is going to take to Twitter, or the town's local soap box, and declare that you are fraudulent in your claims of being a writer, just because you introduced a minor character in chapter three and forgot to mention them again throughout the whole novel. 
Don't worry about what others could be thinking or feeling about your previous indiscretions. They don't matter now! If you're learning and attempting to better your work, you're doing well. And often, just continuing to write as much as you can is a way of improving your content. People pick up pointers on how to write from all over the place, and these tiny pieces of information collect in your mind and pour out onto the screen without anybody even making a conscious effort. 

5) Ask for feedback if you want it.
If it really bothers you, ask a trusted friend, family member or beta to read your work, and offer tips on what it was that maybe could have been better. You can apply this to everything you write from then onward. Perhaps they could even reassure you that it wasn't the terrible, catastrophic drivel you believe it to be. 

6) Keep on writing.
This is vital! Keep writing and focus on the present. If you really want to go back to novel number one and make a revised copy, then do so, but what really matters is the content you make for the future. Sometimes you just have to let go of the past, and carry on. Who knows? The thing that you're working on right now could be in the New York Times Best Sellers list!

It is all about trusting yourself to do the best you can now, and growth. Mistakes are how you learn, and that is key to growth. Whilst it may knock your confidence for the time being, make sure to congratulate yourself on your successes too!

I hope some of you have found this post helpful in any way, and I wish you best of luck working on your newest piece of creative writing!


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