How To Live Without Regrets When You're a Writer
Unless you're a creative type who puts yourself out there, there's probably not an internet trail of every lackluster thing you've ever produced. Welcome to the life of a modern day writer and blogger! Where lacking an internet paper trail of every crap thing you've written just isn't a viable option.
On the one hand, it's nice to be able to look back and see how you've improved--if you can keep from cringing at how awful your earlier work is. On the other hand, you just want all your lackluster stuff that you thought was SO GREAT at the time you created it to just disappear.
I'm not talking about how I, like many teenage girls of my generation, had a "boyfriend application" on their MySpace notes section. I mean the actual consequential stuff where I'm attempting to write seriously and failing miserably.
The empty shells of my former blog attempts are still lingering on the interwebs. Oh, Confessions of the Diarist Tumblr and the original Off the Beaten Shelf blog, also on Tumblr, why must you haunt me so? And I don't even want to talk about that time I used an ex-boyfriend's last name as part of a pseudonym under which I wanted to publish my novel. Hey, he was my boyfriend at the time I made the pseudonym, so it's not totally lame, right? (Actually, don't answer that.)
Oh, and there was that time in high school when I wrote a scathing email to a well-known journalist because he put the title of a book in quotation marks in an article. I thought he was just stupid, but it turns out that I'd never heard of AP Style at that point. Had memes been a thing then, I'm pretty sure I'd be one--pretentious high schooler meme, complete with eye-rolling capabilities. He probably wrote some news column talking about me, though written in a tastefully anonymous way so I'm unidentifiable.
There are also the book reviews from my former book snob days. At one time I thought I had to sound like a hardcore academic in book reviews for people to take me seriously, but what I realize now that I didn't know then is that attempting to sound smart just makes you look dumb. Smart people don't have to go around trying to prove how smart they are. People just know.
There are, much to my disdain, the articles I've written for publications where the editor failed to correct all my grammar mistakes. I know, I know. There are typos in every publication. But it's particularly embarrassing when the subject matter of the article would make for a good portfolio piece, then you go back to read it only to find a typo. Or two. Whether the writer's fault or the editor's, it's the writer's name on it and the writer that has to live with it.
Sure, I could go through the trouble of deleting a lot of these pieces. I could conjure up old passwords from my memory, make blogs look like they never existed, sweep content into the black hole of the internet. Would anyone notice? Probably not. Would anyone blame me? I doubt it.
But I don't do it. You know why? I don't believe in image crafting. As my boss and inspirational mentor, Marie Forleo, says, "progress, not perfection." And when you delete the progress, even all the objectively pathetic attempts, it makes it look like you started out being as good as you currently are. Like you were born with a golden pen in your mouth and your first words were you speaking in prose. While that may make you feel good temporarily, you quickly forget that you weren't always top aces at what you do, and remembering that is important.
This isn't some kind of lecture about how you shouldn't let success go to your head--that's not the primary reason why you should remember that you weren't always at the top of your writing game. It's because, when you craft your image to make it look like you came out of the gate rockin' at what you do, you inadvertently discourage others. You make them feel like their early attempts should already be good--no, not good, great. You make them feel like they're not talented, their dreams are ludicrous, and they should just give up. It's not an intentional thing--you're not actively looking for ways to put others down--but it happens.
So I try to live without regrets about my writing by reminding myself that my progress can be an inspiration, both to myself and other aspiring book bloggers, and I don't want to make anyone think I've always had it all together or even that I've got it all together now. I don't. I'm still learning, and always will be.
I hope that in a year or so I look back on this past year of blogging and groan in exasperation about how awful it is. At least that means I'm getting better. And next time someone messages me to tell me I've inspired them, I can point them to my sub-par work and tell them I used to be where they are, so I know how they feel and that everything will be okay.
Does your previous work make you cringe? Do you delete it? Tell me in the comments below!