If you’re a writer like me, you know. It’s never easy to reread your previous work. It’s even harder to get all the way through. And without cringing? Yeah, that’s pretty impossible. But it’s high time for me to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. And for you too.
My fiction-writing professor explained that he still cringes at his past writing. His published work goes back to 2002 — he’s been at it for 20 years, and he’s still cringing. It never ends.
But is cringing really that bad? Aren’t we improving through the process? Reading your previous work is a lot like hearing your own voice played back. You want to immediately chuck the machine (paper or laptop) against a wall or submerge it in water, except that you’re held back by your wallet and a small sense of nostalgia, maybe even pride. It’s not easy to produce a finished work, and it does signal progress. When you first hear your voice played back, you’re in shock, not sure if the sound is actually you or an elephant with a cold that’s chosen to impersonate you. But after the initial discomfort, you might start noticing the details — the pitch, tone and volume of your voice. Writing is the same; it takes rereading to catch bad habits that need fixing. And I know I have plenty of those.
And then there’s the subject of — wait for it — subjects. Have I actually written about everything I wanted to cover this semester? Have I even picked a good choice of topics? No, not at all. In fact, I often scroll through the work published on the Clog every few months to marvel at the creative ideas that I could have come up with (but obviously didn’t) if only my mind wasn’t mush and I actually noticed the world around me for a change.
And then I realize that I might have been a bit too harsh on myself. I’m tired of trying to work out whether the words I’ve strung together are befitting of academia-processed, high-minded and highly intelligent individuals like UC Berkeley students. I sometimes just want to write what I say to myself in my head, which is really only, “That’s cool,” or “I wonder where he got that breakfast burrito.” That’s fine, right? It’s somewhat entertaining, at least. Or perhaps my overthinking isn’t entertaining at all. And now I’m spiraling down a slippery slope of circular logic that isn’t helpful either.
One day, I want to be a real writer. One that writes from the heart. I want to be as entertaining as a food blogger, as gripping as a breaking news writer, as deep as an opinion columnist, as cultured as an arts writer and as authentic as a novelist. It’ll definitely take time and a whole lot of cringing and overthinking.
But my writing thus far has been something, too: Writing riddled with some mistakes, pockmarked with bits and edges torn from my book of life. I’ve also encountered one or two small moments that made me think, “I don’t hate this piece after all.” And that’s because you, reader, emailed and told me something about yourself and made my awful writing a part of your world. And just by reading this, I’m somehow a small part of your world. Thank you for clicking a link you didn’t have to click on and getting to a sentence you didn’t need to get to. Even if you read this 10 years down the road in 2031, shoot me an email, share something about your life and I’ll say hi in writing — real authentic writing.