“If in my youth I had realized that the sustaining splendour of beauty of with which I was in love would one day flood back into my heart, there to ignite a flame that would torture me without end, how gladly would I have put out the light in my eyes.”  ~Michelangelo

I hear, from time to time, other authors speak of their old work in hushed tones, often in embarrassment or disdain or both. I’ve grown considerably since I first began to try my hand at this particular art of storytelling, but I realized something tonight that I’d known, yet forgotten all the same; youth is exempt from the fear of mortality and therefore has no concept of future misgivings. For most children there is always the promise of tomorrow and with it, the possibility of everything they long for. The fear of failure, when it comes to their dreams, is as foreign as the reality of income tax and termites.

After sending out a submission and getting unrealistically (and unnecessarily) wrapped up in all the ‘grown-up’ stuff we authors have to deal with, I sat down in my oversized chair and randomly went through a few old files—stuff I hadn’t so much as glanced at in a decade. I flipped absentmindedly through the papers and before long, I found myself stunned by my own past, in awe of a love affair with worlds I’d long since forgotten. I knew I’d written five ‘books’ when I was fourteen or so, in collaboration with my best friend at the time. I’ve read over them now and again for old times’ sake, but what I’d apparently put out of mind was a staggering amount of work—prologues, story sketches, scenes, character and plot maps; pages upon pages of what probably amounts to over 500,000 words or so. This is just prose, not journal entries (which exceed that number by far).

You’re probably asking yourself why you’re still reading this post by now, but give me a second here. My point in bringing this up, is that I want to remind you what it meant to write with such abandon. I clearly, clearly couldn’t have cared less if those words ever saw daylight, let alone publication. As adults, we still write with ourselves in mind (mostly—then editors, our readers, etc), but there is such a tremendous difference. It isn’t merely the lack of experience or lack of quality that would accompany any childhood ramblings that makes these penned worlds what they are. There is something else, something evergreen that literally jumps off of the pages. This girl, who worked free of boundaries, is why I started writing again three years ago. I didn’t merely love to write: I wrote with no concept of what it meant to be an author. I walked through the divide between what is, and what can never be, with no consideration of how it affected me personally.

What I’m saying, is that I didn’t care about voice, or style, or genre; I didn’t have any notion of royalties or advances or contracts. I didn’t fear rejections because frankly, even had I known what they were, I still wouldn’t have given a damn. Put simply, the story was all that mattered. We say this all the time as adults, but do we mean it utterly?

And really, when the day ends, what differentiates good prose from great? What distinguishes one work and discards another? That single quality, that crucial element that will, without fail, lend validity to your work is its ability to be evergreen. The irony of it, is that it isn’t something that can be forced. It either is, or is not. The choice is up to you and how willing you are to let go of your boundaries. As youth, we gather our materials and ready ourselves to construct mythical kingdoms, great and lofty palaces. Yet somewhere along the way our adulthood steals our confidence, tells us that all we have collected is of no consequence, convinces us that degrees and titles and awards are the only things that will build a future.

To hell with adulthood.

It’s in my blood. Perhaps I am romanticizing this time, but you didn’t spend the last three hours reading what I read. I’m ashamed of how much fear I’ve let slip in over the last year or so. But, the good thing about writing youthfully; there is always tomorrow. And tomorrow, I start fresh…no more fear or doubt (or Dragons if you’ve been reading this blog), only evergreen.


11 responses

  1. I have undergone a change in the past year in which desperation has given sway to the “To hell with it” attitude of my youth. Writing without abandoned and without fear of mortality are the brands of youthful writers.

    When I read through my old files, I thought, “Where did that guy go?”

    Then I smiled and answered my own question, “Oh, yeah, here he is. He is still me under all these layers of adult wrappings.”

    I have been in the process the past year sloughing the thick skin of adulthood to re-emerge as that hell fire and brimstone preacher of the tale of my teens and twenties.

  2. Great point. I keep my old work around too. I remember how I use to write without abandon. The words, the action, the love, the characters, the creatures, the inspiration…. they were everywhere. Oh… there were plot issues, flawed characters, two different hats at the same time on the same head…. but non of that mattered. I had great characters, creatures, and story. I had something that I loved so much I couldn’t help but get it down on paper. To go back and read through the original copy of the Trials is like stepping back into time. I hear older writers look at their early works, (some wouldn’t dream of keeping them around) and they’d as soon as burn them. I look at them to see how different a person I was. I was unskilled, but you’re right. There was something in there that showed the love I felt. Not saying the rewrite of my story I started 2 1/2 years ago doesn’t, but it’s not the same. It’s better writing, the plot has been ironed nicely, I’m no longer naive enough to think someone would want to read a 240,000 word book… edits have been made and we’re on our way to finishing up the entire mss… I have pictures which I can compare from when I was 15 to now… It’s like walking back in time, looking at the same story in a whole different light. When I get stumped, I use it to help me find the muse. 🙂

  3. I think it may very well have been desperation that led me to wade through those files. I was so unbelievably keyed up that I needed something to bring me to my senses. God, how I didn’t expect to feel the way I did after discovering all of that stuff. It was lifetimes ago that it was written. I definitely had a, “where the hell is that girl?” moment. Hellfire and brimstone preacher…so nicely put. I couldn’t have said it better!

    Justine, those five *books* I mention (the asterisks are because the term is used with a whore’s promiscuity), were ironically turned into Icarus, some fifteen years after they were written. Literally, all that remains of the original are a few of the names and the presence of vampires. But, even with all of the changes the essence is there because I started Icarus literally with no intention of ever seeking publication. It was more salve for my soul than anything else. And, I wrote the first chapter to the Fable series when I was fifteen. Very, very little remains–just the premise and one name. But, again, like you said it’s that love, that stepping back in time that makes these early manuscripts so meaningful to us. I couldn’t fathom burning any of them regardless of how poorly written/plotted/conceived they may be.

  4. Sometimes I feel the same way when I come accross some of my older business plans from years past. Full of optimisim and unknowing (but expecting) of the barriers ahead, sometimes seeming close to the point of childish dreams. It’s when I return to these old plans though, that I renew my inspiration to pull through the tough times ahead.

  5. Your current business plan kicks serious ass, so the older ones must be awesome to provide that kind of inspiration. I mean, I’ve said it before, but beer and fantasy….what’s not to like?

  6. Nice blog entry.

    I think creativity demands a delicate balance between the critical thinking of adulthood coupled with the audacity of youth, a caution intertwined with wild abandon. As such, it’s easy to go too far this way or that and tumble from the tightrope.

    Yet the secret is to climb back up again and restart the journey across that endless wire, hoping this time to strike up the perfect balance of risk and craftsmanship that brings the applause of the jaded crowd the creator aims to please.

  7. I had a similar experience recently. Boxes of my old books, stories which I had forgotten I ever wrote, which suddenly came to life again. And then there were the early drafts of stories I still deeply love, which I have rewritten beyond recognition, and, I sometimes fear, beyond redemption. I had re-written the beginning of my Dindi story so often, it was no longer recognizable, searching for that magic formula. Finally, I realized that I had stepped over the line, doing violence to the original innocence of my character. I stepped back to an earlier version. The beginning may be a little cruder now, but it is more true to the story.

    Lovely essay, and lovely picture.

  8. Oh, Bree, I really needed to read this!
    I miss that kind of unabashed writing, where form and function mattered less than telling the story that was in my heart.
    Thank you for this post.

  9. Thank you Tee, for saying that. I really needed to hear it. Especially now, tonight, I miss that sort of writing too…

  10. Pingback: This Great Love « Welcome to the Asylum

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