For me, the best way to gauge the evolution of my writing is to browse through old manuscripts. A ripple of awe encompasses me as I read over these dusty files, but that moment of awe isn’t always a good feeling. More often than not, I have an extended “What the hell was I thinking” moment while pouring over these words that are mine, but somehow aren’t.
Our writing ideals change, whether we realize it or not, with each new book we read. While this may be common knowledge for some, I didn’t really realize the truth of it until I broke out these old manuscripts. In them, I found elements reflecting the types of books I read heavily during the period I scribbled out those drafts.
Most of the writing is horrible and I cringe… but then I begin editing, and I realize I’ve grown. I can feel it with every slash of my red pen, with each new line or phrase I suggest to the writer I was then.
What most amazes me about this entire process is that I feel empowered. Yes, the manuscript is a mess. I mean, it’s bleeding red ink and yet… it inspires me.
Because I know that I’m growing; evolving. Words that suited me then aren’t quite right now, and the fact that I’m able to discern that is wonderful! Still, wielding my pen as a weapon against my own words is also heartbreaking. The meloncholia of my youthful muse tears me down for one fleeting moment.
The muse, however, won’t be sad for long.
No matter how terrible the old writing may seem, it’s just that: old. While each word may seem to be the wrong one, it’s inevitable that something is bound to be usable. After all, the old drafts are still a part of us, of our journey as writers.
We can reconcile our youthful musings and our less reckless writing-selves by acknowledging our growth. We can look back with a more practiced eye and see, immediately, the things that didn’t work. We may even be able to explain to ourselves why it doesn’t work. But we can also find those sparkling gems; the promise of the budding writer we knew was inside all along.
So, let’s remember that when we look back at a draft (whether it’s years old or hours old) to appreciate it for what it is: the tell-tale sign of growth as a writer.
But to evolve, we must first write, so let’s get to it.
Live. Love. Write.