For Posterity

July 28, 2010

'Is it safe to come out?'

One of the ever-present worries of the writer (and the artist, but we’re looking at the writer here – though I will say the image I’m illustrating this entry with dates back to 2001) is one’s older work. There’s a delicate balance there; how much should be kept around for posterity? How soon can one say “no, that tripe is embarrassing” and take it down in an attempt to forget it ever existed? How often is it really as bad as the writer, always his own harshest critic (though I’ve read some stories that make me doubt that adage), thinks it is?

I’m not innocent of this myself. I’ve neglected to bring some of my older writing onto this blog because I found it not up to my current standards. In many cases it’s not the plot, but the language; I tend to find my early English, whether in the form of creative writing or old chat logs, pretty embarrassing. What of it I still have around (which, honestly, is most of it, as I’m a horrible packrat – the only writing I know for sure I’ve ever lost is a couple of short scenes that got lost with my Creative Writing portfolio, and a number of pages of my 7th grade magnum opus that my younger brother deleted from the family computer for false, petty reasons) I’d probably share if someone came and asked me for that one story about this or that which they read way back when, but I’ll not share it spontaneously anymore. There’s enough bad writing to go around. My old comic work may be even harder hit by the “it’s old and embarrassing” mallet; a couple of years’ worth of my webcomic Paladins’ Haven is never again going to see the light of the Internet if I have any say.

Yet, despite all these failings of my own, and my determination to not make up for them by posting even the writing that’s still available elsewhere online unless I actually think it lives up to some fuzzy minimum quality standard, I think this is the wrong way to go about it in principle. I believe that, generally speaking, there’s probably a grain of good in most of the stuff we feel embarrassed about. I know someone who is quietly ignoring his old writing, while I still find it quite readable and enjoyable, though I will admit that the few pieces he did rewrites of were improved with his added experience in the writing craft.

I can look at my old art and see that it’s not nearly as horrible as I once thought, as though there’s a stage between recent and old where you know you can do better but don’t have the distance from the work to see the merits it still does have. I still don’t have that distance when it comes to writing, but I hope it will come in time, and when it does happen, I’ll be capable of doing good rewrites of old concepts. I look forward to revisiting some of those old stories, even if I have to completely revise the plots due to experience showing me just how plausible many of them weren’t. Not yet, but one day. So that’s one vote for “don’t burn your old notebooks.”

There’s more, however. I want to take another step. What I want to say from up here on my purely fictional soapbox, is don’t delete. Don’t take things down. Chances are someone enjoyed it, and will be saddened to come back to their old bookmarks to find it gone. Websites disappear, domains expire, free webspace suddenly goes for-pay, killing all the great free sites they once hosted. It happens. But I have to wonder how many of the now-forever-broken links on, say, Mia’s Index, were broken because the writer grew self-conscious. I went looking for a piece of fanfiction, yesterday, which I have read twice over the years, and which illustrated one aspect of a concept I want to touch on in here some time in the future quite well, as I recall. It was gone; the only thing that remains of it is vague mentions, a few recommendations, and two sentences’ worth of quotes from it in a LiveJournal post.

Don’t be ashamed of your writing. Don’t post with the intent of later removing the work. Sometimes you have to take that step, but don’t plan on it in advance, is all I ask, really. If nothing else, a budding writer will see how far you’ve come and be inspired.

There are worse things to be, than inspiration for someone’s striving to improve.

Related links:
Mia’s Index of Anthro Stories – textbook example of what happens over the years when you link and don’t archive
My Elfwood Library – see how far I’ve come; I’ll be over in that corner pretending I don’t know me

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