All authors started somewhere. We’ve discussed this before. However, when authors look back at their earliest writing, there may be a mix of reactions. Childhood writing would be simple, but how about teenage writing?
It was so boring! I had a tendency to wax poetic about the oddest things, and it would make scenes drag on and on and on forever. I also hated to kill my darlings, so I would get chapters and chapters full of beautiful prose… with little to no plot progression or serious relevance.
Also, I used to headhop. Like a madman. I don’t know what was wrong with me haha.
Years back I was editing a crime novel based on the story of Persephone. That book’s tucked away, but I surprised myself with how much detail I pulled from original myths to create these characters, from Demeter’s failing nursery to Hades’ favorite nymphs. I did cringe when I made (but didn’t catch) several references to my protagonist’s bad teeth (based on a bad toothache I had while writing the story) and a placeholder name I used for a minor character made it into the “final” draft. Who knows what I’ll find if I opened it today.
My oldest surviving writing is from when I was about twelve, and was edited when I was about fifteen, so I’m surprised to see that even then I had an attachment to certain concepts and character-types, even if almost none of the specifics of those characters have survived. I wouldn’t really say I’m embarrassed, because my prose wasn’t too bad then, for what I was writing — Dungeons & Dragons-style adventures. I’m much more embarrassed of the literary short stories I slapped together during college, since I wasn’t allowed to write genre fiction in my short-story classes; the disinterest really shows.
When I look at some of my earliest writing I cringe. I was a monotonous writer. My descriptions were bland and my word choices were the epitome of boring. At least in fiction works. Some of poetry that I’d reread years afterward I’d have to ask myself, “I wrote this?” Perhaps because I was reading with fresh eyes, perhaps because I could connect to it so personally, I really liked them. My poetry most always used vivid imagery. But it never carried over to my fiction writing until much later.
The most embarrassing thing to look back at and see for me is that I was one of the worst offenders I know for creating “Mary Sue” characters (long before I ever know what the term meant). When I first started writing way back in the third grade, I would write stories featuring myself and my friends, or I’d make up female characters who looked and acted suspiciously similar to myself. Wish fulfillment was definitely the name of the game. I didn’t worry so much about silly things like a good plot…I wrote things the way I saw them in my fantasies, with myself as the do-no-wrong heroine whom everybody loved. This was all fairly understandable since I was, like, eight when I first started writing, but the theme did actually persist for quite a while, so I do still have random stuff in my house right at this moment that makes me shudder just to look at it.
Because my early writing happened during my teenage years, it falls in the embarrassing category. The cheesy characters, dialogue, wandering plot, ugh, it’s all so bad. I did have more description back then, but yeah, still not in a good way.
Looking at some of the first stories that I wrote after I started seriously considering writing for publication, there’s one where I’m kind of embarrassed to have held back as much as I did. There is such a thing as too subtle.
And another one literally has more exposition than action, despite allegedly being an adventure story.
What surprises me the most, is that I know at the time I thought my writing of ten years ago was good. What I fear the most is, in ten years’ time I’ll be surprised that my current writing is so much worse than I imagine it is. Did that make sense? …maybe it won’t be that much of a surprise…
Two reactions: First, it was really bad. Really bad. Adverbs, cliches, stories without any coherent plot, etc. But on the other hand, there was still enough goodness there that I continue to find the stories engaging, and I can still drop into the fantasy.
I am always surprised how simultaneously good and awful my old writing is. Sometimes I come across a cool line and I think “Did I write that?” Then, usually immediately after that, I come across a line that makes me groan, “Did I write THAT?”
Nothing about it surprises or embarrasses me. I know where I’ve come from, how far I’ve progressed. I’m not ashamed that I write better now, three decades later than some of it. I’m not surprised to see themes and even the beginnings of stories that I am now writing in some of the older stuff. Some of the ideas in my first novel, Cedeforthy, I developed as a small child. Some of the hardest things to cut are those that you’ve held onto for years.
When I wrote a short story in high school, I was proud of it. I don’t have access to it anymore, but I think I’d probably cringe at the dialogue and narration. In university, I wrote a bit, as well. I clearly remember how corny it sounded. But then, I didn’t go beyond a rough draft at that time. I should also mention that I wrote in present tense. I’m not very fond of present tense in fiction now.
How about you?
If you write, what do you think of your first attempts at writing? Let us know in the comments below.