Forgetting Things You’ve Written

It looks like I’ve come to the point in my writing career that I don’t even remember stuff I’ve written. I cleaned out a file cabinet that I have been putting off for – oh maybe years – and was amazed to find a stack of notebooks and envelopes. These were written under a different name and address – maiden name, parent’s house – so I imagine it’s during college.

This suspicion is confirmed by a notebook. It begins with a page of assignments, but then is followed by pages of goofy choose-your-own-adventure type stories I wrote about my friends and me, while feigning to take notes during college classes. There are a bunch of song lyrics replaced with further adventures of college girls – you know – boys, parties, fun.

Then I find envelopes labeled to publishers or magazines. I don’t even remember hearing many of these names before! Inside are cover letters and articles I printed up on my parent’s crappy old printer. Seeing that they were never mailed, I imagine I was too chicken-shit at the time to actually submit them. I read them and thank God they were never published, the way most writers cringe when they read their earlier work.

Then I ease up a little. Sure, they’re bad, but maybe they were essential for practice. I later published an article on living abroad for one of the publishers I targeted, Transitions Abroad, had two related stories published in the anthology, Europe from a Backpack, and include one of the themes in my book Journey of a Woman Marine. These pages are filled with details I’ve long since forgotten, written from the perspective of a 20-something itching for travel overseas. I scan over the words, “Oh, but I was smitten” and laugh. Was I talking about Paris or the French guy? Does it matter?

Finding all this old crap inspires me to keep working on my new novel, which by the way has a lot of crap so far. Didn’t Anne Lamott write about Shitty First Drafts? This draft is definitely shitty. The only problem is that I keep trying to make it unshitty, instead of keep moving forward to finish the first draft. (Note to self – continue with the crap for now. )

So  have any of you had a similar experience finding things you’ve written about and long since forgotten? How about shitty first drafts? Tell me about it.

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3 Responses to Forgetting Things You’ve Written

  1. karmicangel says:

    It’s interesting… and the first time I am sharing this with folks outside of my family, but I wrote my first novel in my early twenties. It is called Savitri, and I have ONE hard (printed) copy and one 3.5 floppy disk as evidence it ever even existed. I then went and did all the things you do in your twenties – got married, had kids, focused on career etc, etc. This past year I’ve been writing again A LOT, first a sci-fi mystery and my latest love – a series of Detective stories set in 1930s London. But as much as I am enjoying this writing, which seems to come SO MUCH easier than in my twenties… my heart and my eyes keep being drawn back to that folder on my bookshelf next to my bed where I know my first novel lives. I haven’t read it since ..oh… at least 2000… and I tell you, I am terrified that it sucks. I really am. In my head it was the best thing I had ever written, possibly better than what I am writing now, but I am so scared to open it. So there it sits. So, I don’t know… maybe I have forgotten that it was good, or maybe I’m scared that I have forgotten just how bad it was.. Or maybe someday I will get up the nerve to actually… sigh. No. Today is not that day. Maybe tomorrow.

    • lisacordeiro says:

      So you finished the novel? That’s awesome – the hardest challenge met! I love how it’s on a floppy disk, too. I found some of those and have no means of reading them anymore to see what other crap I’ve written is on there – which may be a good thing. ;)
      I’m eager to hear your reaction when you reread it. Maybe you’ll laugh at the musings of your younger self, like me, or maybe you’ll find some really good heartfelt gems in there. If you keep being drawn back to it, it must be good at its core.
      Let us what happens if and when you go for it.

  2. That’s funny. I did some writing in high school, but I think my grandmother found the notebook and threw it out. Then I didn’t write ficton again until last April.