You’d expect this to be about looking back at old work and cringing at how bad I used to be, right?
You’d be wrong.
We’ve all got our learning pieces, the stuff we wrote while we were trying to figure out the very basics of how to string ideas and characters together, and of course those pieces are terrible. I cringe at them when I find them, and try to pretend that they don’t exist as soon as they’re out of sight again, but that’s to be expected.
You don’t normally get to be good at something without being terrible at it first, unless you’re Harry Potter and the “something” in question is Quidditch.
No, the ghost I’m talking about is the ghost of brilliant writing. When you pick up something you wrote two, five, ten years ago, and it holds up. Not only holds up, but actually outshines a lot of what I’m writing right now.
I skimmed through an old WIP about a week ago, and I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach. And then I went back and actually read it, and I wanted to cry.
“Why can’t I write like that anymore?”
I felt the shadow of that four-year-old piece of writing falling over me for the next few days. I’d start to write something, and then I would remember the old piece and think “what’s the point, since what I write today won’t match up?”
And then I’d write it anyway, and it wouldn’t match up, and I’d feel grumpy and also vindicated, but mostly grumpy.
The piece in question was the beginning of a fanfic that I’d been planning on writing, and I’ve poked at it since then and discovered that I’m still interested in the idea. I also discovered that I’m not the worthless inept failure that I sort of felt like I was; once I got into the flow, I found that writing voice again, and I’m quite pleased with what I’ve been able to get out.
But I still haven’t quite gotten over that feeling of crushing disappointment, like I’d reached my peak without knowing it and it was all downhill from there.
Has anyone else been unpleasantly surprised by past brilliance? Were you able to make something useful out of it? How did you get past it? WILL I EVER BE GOOD ENOUGH?