What I Have Learned From Reading My Old Stories
When I first developed my passion for writing almost ten years ago, I was writing all the time. Any idea that came into my head went down on the digital screen. Some were fully planned out stories that had outlines for sequels, while others were snippets of dreams I had.
Having recently felt stuck in my writing, worried I wasn't getting any better, I went back to those old stories for inspiration. What I found instead surprised me. Not only had my storytelling gotten better, but my formatting, organization, and spelling/vocabulary.
Sure I had been watching videos, reading articles, and novels until I passed out. What I didn't know during that process was that I was learning bit by bit and getting better at my craft. I had tons of half-finished novels, short stories, and even one novel that I will talk about in another post. That was all practice, even if it will never see the light of day. Each word was another learning experience in growing as a writer.
Improvement Takes Time
When I first started writing, I wasn't worried if I was any good. I had ideas flowing out of my brain and the biggest issue I had was getting them all out. Once that started to dwindle down, my natural need to know how things work started to kick in. I absorbed every bit of writing that I could because I wanted to understand it more.
One thing I wasn't consciously doing was trying to improve my craft. I was curious about something I enjoyed doing. In fact, I hated practicing anything because it was a slow process. Even though all the writing and learning I have done over the years has helped me become better each day, I wasn't aware of it at the moment. I didn't know I was getting better.
I thought I understand the process more, so that was why it came easier. I might have struggled with dialogue for a few short stories, only to learn more about it and then notice it came easier. I knew the basics of the three-act structure from school, but not the intricacies of it and how to use it to make my stories better.
By continuing learning and writing I was able to significantly improve my skills over time, and it didn't feel like nails on a chalkboard. Not paying attention to my progress made it so it was a nonissue. I always knew to get better at something, you have to keep going, fail, learn from your mistakes, and try again. When it came to writing, all I wanted was to keep doing it and make it easier for myself. There was no intentional practice.
In my recent writing, I am much more aware of whether or not it is good. Often times I feel it stinks and that I should give up. You can read more about that below:
For the last few years since I started going to college for writing, it has been at the forefront of my mind whether or not I was improving. I would take a class on characters and feel mine was lacking. Many courses required reading works from published authors and I knew my writing was nowhere close to that level. Ultimately I felt stuck.
I first put out a short story to the world in 2019 about a story I felt confident about. It was the best piece of writing I had done and thought I couldn't do any better. I was at the peak of my writing skill and it was smooth sailing from there. Boy was I wrong. I recently skimmed through the short story and it is filled with issues. Grammar, plot, pacing, character development. I soon after took it down as I felt it didn't represent my current skill.
Had I really improved in the last three years? Sure I had written multiple short stories, published one on Amazon, and have about a dozen half-finished novels waiting for my return. Add that to the numerous stories over the last ten years and the improvement starts to make more sense.
Sure I can't tell the difference between a story I wrote last month from one I am writing now, but go back six months, a year, ten? I don't even recognize it.
So looking back at my old stories, I can tell I have improved, but can others? My mom has given nothing but praise for every story I have written, likely dating back to elementary. That isn't helpful in determining if all the time I've spent has been worth it. I am months away from finishing my MFA and still question if I am good enough.
There is one person I can trust to give me honest feedback. My wife. Many think that those that love them won't tell them their story stinks, and might not even mention their socks don't match. We don't want to hurt the ones we love. Feedback when asked for, doesn't have to be like that. You can give honest feedback without hurting someone's feelings.
Hearing from my wife that my work has in fact gotten better, boosted my confidence. I know she is being honest because I had given her four different short stories and she told me upfront about the ones she did not like. She is not a writer, but she is a reader and at the end of the day, that is who I want to enjoy my novels.
Was It All Worth It?
I have skimmed through a lot of my old writing, and my wife is telling me I have gotten better, so what does that mean going forward? Well, the short answer is that I know I can keep doing what I have been doing and likely will improve. Knowing that in the last ten years I have come this far, I look forward to looking back in the next ten.
I believe there is always room for some improvement and for learning. Although I could almost teach a class on story structure, it is still helpful to go back and get a refresher from time to time. I have grown in not only my writing abilities, but I am able to understand what isn't working in my stories. Instead of wondering why it sucks, I know why and can work to improve it.
So if you feel like your writing isn't getting any better, and that you have hit a plate, take the time to read through your old work, and you might be as surprised as I was. Even if you are just starting out, keep writing, keep learning, and save those awful first drafts. At the very least it can be a confidence booster moving forward.
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