Words on a Page Writings about writing

The writer you were, the writer you are

Someone typing on a laptop

Far too often (and once is too often), I hear or see tweets by writers who, when looking back at their early work, express shock and horror at how cringeworthy that work is.

It’s a silly reaction, and I think they’re being far too dramatic.

They seem to forget that they’re not that writer any more. The writer they are now isn’t the same writer they were when they penned that early work.

That goes for you, too.

If you’ve been doing everything you should have — studying your craft, writing with intent, pressing the Publish button, getting feedback, and repeating the process — you should have grown as a writer. You’ll have improved, honed your craft, and expanded your skills.

Instead of cringing or expressing horror at your older work, you should look at it. You should take in how far you’ve come.

You’ll see glimpses of the writer you are now in those early pieces. Sure, that work will lack polish and sometimes seem laboured, but the core of you as a writer is in there. In the second last edition of my newsletter, I resurrected an unpublished science essay that I wrote in the early 1990s. That essay needed to be updated, rewritten a bit, and pared down. But overall, in my opinion, it was a good piece of both writing and thinking.

I view that essay, and the writing I did in that period, as being part of the foundation of the career I have. Yes, I would write all of those articles and essays differently if I was tackling them now. That’s not the point. Writing all those words, including (I’d argue especially) the unpublished words, were what made me the writer I am today.

So, if you feel the urge to look back at what you wrote early in your journey as a writer then remember to view that work as the first steps you took. The first steps that led you where you are now.

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