Re-reading My Work: What It's Like to Visit All My Previous Projects

I've been writing for awhile now. My mom has some of my really old notebooks, way back in the days when I did more scribbling than actual writing. I really started to take it seriously in 2014, and there have been a large variety of writing projects since then - novels, poems, short stories, scripts, articles.

Occasionally, I've gone back to read my early work, mostly to see how I've grown and changed as a writer. It's both fun and painful to read the things I wrote before I really developed my writing voice or had a sense for good story. The further back I go, the more I cringe at how much confidence I had in my lack of skill. Ironically, the more I develop my voice and skill, the more I doubt myself. Maybe it'd be easier to go back to when I had all the confidence because I didn't know any better.

What I am grateful for is that I can really see how much I've grown. I'm nowhere near the end of my journey as a writing, but I thought it'd be fun to look back at some of my earliest work and show you guys a little bit of how I feel when I revisit my early pieces.

re-reading articles

When I wrote my first article for The Pulse, I read and re-read it many times. Partly because it was my first time writing something for publication, and partly because I wanted to prove that I was a good writer. I think I was responsible for at least a hundred views on that article. It was a Buzzfeed style listicle, but I was really proud of it. Now? I'm still proud of it because it got me to start writing, but it's definitely not my best work.

A few months later, I started my first column - Daily De-Stessors. The first article was rough and only a glimpse of what it would grow to be like. My recommendations were solid and the writing had improved, but looking back, I can tell how new I was to all of this. I'd only taken a couple of classes for writing journalistically, so my skills were barely beginning to take shape. I cringe a little at how simple it was and how overly-enthusiastic I sound, but I'd call it the beginning of my journalistic career.

The first story that I really look back on fondly is a piece I wrote about a spring musical that gets put together in three weeks. It was my first time going around and doing a ton of interviews. In excitement, I think I interviewed about eight different people and spent nearly three hours watching their rehearsals and visiting the set as they put things together. My enthusiasm paid off though. The article came out nicely and I got to highlight all the different pieces that had to come together to make such a thing possible. When I go back and read it now, I can see the earliest hints of my journalistic voice and how excited I was to do something like this. It was the moment I realized I loved long-form journalism and one of the reasons I began working for The Pulse in a staff capacity a few months later.

There are a lot of pieces close to my heart. I've gotten to do stuff for the magazine and for the online site. Some have turned out much better than others. Like my piece on how white the Oscars are. I thought I did a good job at the time, but in hindsight, I should have reached out to non-white students in the theatre department to see what they had to say about the matter. As a favor to another writer, I took over a story about studying abroad. It turned out okay and I made the most of what I could without having done any of the interviews myself, but it's a story I wish I had more time to work with.

And then there are the pieces that I'm proudest of because they're things I'm passionate about or stories that taught me a lot. The first story that I wrote on bilingualism made me really happy to encourage people to learn a second language. Learning more about Martin Luther King Jr., talking to some scholars about his life, and the importance of educating people beyond Black History Month really challenged me as a person. And perhaps my favorite story? A woman who cosplays to show other people that they can look strong and beautiful no matter what. I had known of her from Maggie and already done a different project on her during my sophomore year, but I knew there was more to her story that needed to be told. So I used my power as Editor-in-Chief to create a theme so that I could feature her story. Slight abuse of power there, but the story is better than anything I could have imagined and it's still my proudest work to this day.

There are also stories that have challenged me because they're not in my comfort zone. As a journalist, I'd say that most of my work shines when I'm talking about people, arts, and culture. But when I decided to pick up a story on an athlete? That was a whole new world that I had to learn about. Normally, I strongly dislike writing about sports because of the numbers and the terms. Not being a sports fan makes it dull and uninteresting, which I've always thought comes across in my writing when I've had to cover it before. But I had the chance to talk to a Ninja Warrior, so I pushed myself to give it a chance. It turned out better than I thought and was just the right push for me to get out of my comfort zone. That pushed helped when I was later asked by a friend and co-worker to cover the school's new e-sports team. And though it's not something I would normally write about or have much personal interest in, I think I was able to create good discussion around the topic and the fact that the school was adding it to its roster of sports teams.

I think it's easier for me to look back on my journalistic work with fondness because I got to edit it a lot and it's far shorter than writing a novel or even some of my short stories. There's also the fact that other people have gone over it and edited me to make me sound better.

re-reading novels & short stories

When it comes to fiction stories, oh I have so many other feelings.

Let's start with the hot mess that is Project Never Touch This Again Lest You Cringe. My first NaNoWriMo novel and the only one that I have put into the darker corner of projects that will never see the light of day. Am I being dramatic? Perhaps. Is this draft really that terrible? I had a character with such toxic farts that his companions passed out. 17-year old me had a lot of misplaced confidence in her writing and a very strange desire to emulate Lauren Oliver's flowery writing - something which I now know I'm not good at and shouldn't force.

There's also a very long fan fiction of the Famous Five from my childhood that I no longer have. While I don't remember what the mystery or general story was supposed to be, I remember creating a really annoying girl that had an obsessive crush on one of the boys and got on everyone's nerves. The story was never done and thankfully, had been lost to the era of floppy disks and desktop computers that weigh as much as I do. And I don't think I've really talked about it until now, so woohoo, exposing myself when no one asked for it.

A short story from high school that I have lots of mixed feelings about is Broken Night. I had to write something vaguely inspired by my life as one of my final pieces for my Creative Writing class, so I wrote this short story. At the time, it was an outlet for me to process some stuff that was going on in my personal life and friendships. The writing is pretty decent, but the story definitely has all the angsty-teen vibes that I never actually had in person. What gives me the most mixed feelings was that it ended up causing a rift between me and some friends. A thoughtless share led to misunderstandings that have colored the story with that memory. I can read it and appreciate what I was trying to do with the story and the writing, but it can never be separated from how uncomfortable it was when the story was shared with people who were never meant to read it.

I sometimes dig through a compiled document of all the short stories I've written for classes or because I needed to write them for myself. Most of them are pretty neutral - things I wrote for one prompt or another and would never work on again. A few make me laugh, like a scene I wrote about two high school sweethearts going in for the first kiss, only for a nosebleed to interrupt the moment. There's one about missed chances that is far more dramatic than anything else I've ever written. One about heartbreak that helped me process feelings over a breakup. A short mystery that allowed me to explore the idea of obsessive jealousy over long periods of time. A piece that was inspired by a friend's experience and became the first time I played with writing in all three perspectives. An exercise in rewriting mythology that eventually became Project Twins for NaNoWriMo 2018.

It's more complicated when I look back at my short stories and novels because some of them are straight up terrible and others have room for vast improvement. And since I can be dramatic in fiction, that's often what makes me cringe the most when I go back to read these pieces. I think it's also harder because seeing the bad pieces makes me wonder if one day, I'll look back at all my projects and think of them that way. If they'll all end up in the came corner that Project Never Touch This Again Lest You Cringe is in.

Yes, there are novels that have gone really well. Project Ceiling Cat is still my favorite of all my projects (shhh, don't tell them that I'm picking favorites) and Project Bodyguard has been a lot of fun. I love Project Heist because it's the first time I wrote an Asian main character, and Project Twins is the fantasy story I've love to tell some day. But they're not always enough to quell the doubt. Unlike my journalistic stories, my fiction hasn't been published. It's not something hundreds of people have read and shared. Adding in my seeming inability to finish drafting a story, I know there's some fear in going back to these projects because I want something that will be good enough.

Whether that's good enough for me or for an agent or a publisher or all three, I don't quite know yet. It's probably all three. Deep down, I do know that most of my projects are good and have potential on some level. Deciding if those stories are best suited for the traditional publishing market or self-publishing route comes down to what I'm able to make of the story.

BUT! Seeing my NaNoWriMo certificates always helps. They're proof that I have the discipline to work on these stories. And it reminds me how much I enjoy writing and storytelling. And there are stories that I think really have the potential to make it in traditional publishing. The ones that don't have that capability can be my fun projects or can be a push for me to actually look into self-publishing and what that might have to offer.

Looking back at these projects also reminds me how much I've grown as a writer. My characters have gotten older as I have grown up. My writing is cleaner and much more distinctive in voice. It's becoming easier for me to work through a whole story in a way that makes sense, and I've gained a much better understanding for who my characters are and the themes I enjoy playing with in each project.

It's nice to see how my stories have also become more layered as I get older. It's no longer just about the main character doing their thing. My side characters have stories. There are other things going on that challenge everyone. The plot itself is multi-dimensional and explores things that I've had to learn in my own life.

I guess it's easier to just say that I have a lot of feelings when it comes to re-reading my work. Some bring me immense joy and prove to me over and over again that writing is something I love. Other pieces make me question how I was ever confident in my writing skills.

That's always the thing with creative work though. Some stand the test of time and some don't. In the end, I am glad that I wrote each and every thing (maybe not the toxic fart character) because they got me to where I am today.

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