Why I’m Not Ashamed of My Terrible Writing

Let’s be honest: All writers start out writing not-great things.

I’ve recently been considering bringing back my podcast. Yes, bringing back — as in I had a podcast once, but after seven or eight episodes it became one of many abandoned projects I would set off to the side when I got “too busy” to squeeze it in.

As I began contemplating the possibility of a Brain Rush revival, I went back and listened to the episodes I’d recorded back in 2016 … and I could barely get through them.

They were — and I’m not embarrassed to admit it — awful. Awful, I suppose, in the way that most beginners’ podcasts are at the start. They didn’t sound good. They weren’t all that interesting. But most of all, they didn’t fit. The writing wasn’t meant for a podcast. I didn’t know what writing for a podcast was supposed to sound like. It wasn’t “bad.” It just wasn’t “right.”

Would I have gotten better at it if I’d kept going? Debatable. But the truth is, I stopped. I sensed what I was doing wasn’t working, even then, and made the right decision: Put this to bed for now and focus on projects that need your attention more right now. And that’s probably why I’ve accomplished so much since then, despite never becoming a podcast genius. I don’t feel I’m missing out.

That doesn’t mean I can’t go back, though. If I want to subject myself to that again.

As I began drafting possible scripts — just in case I ever did one day revive the project I’d abandoned after only a few months — I thought about those old episodes. Should I delete them? They’re still available for the whole world to hear. Do I want a clean slate? To eliminate any evidence that I was ever THAT bad at podcasting?

I asked myself a similar question in 2015 when I decided to re-brand my old blog, Tales of a College Novelist. I had been posting to the blog pretty regularly at that point — it wasn’t some forgotten-about endeavor I wanted to revive. But I knew it was time to take it in a different direction, a decision that ended up being one of the best I’ve ever made.

However, I didn’t delete any of the posts I’d written before the re-brand. You can go all the way back to January 2009 and start reading my posts from the very beginning if you want to. Not that you would — 16-year-old me was, well, just what you’d expect a 16-year-old to be. And then some.

There’s a pretty good reason I didn’t delete my old posts and start over, and it’s the same reason old episodes of Brain Rush will remain accessible until the end of time (ugh).

My reason: Growth is a story that needs to be told in its entirety, from the very beginning.

As a creative human being who gives advice on the internet, I’ve said at least a hundred times that the only way to get better at something is to do it terribly over and over until you figure out how to do it better. I wouldn’t feel I had the right to give that advice if I didn’t have personal proof that I’ve done just that.

And so everything I’ve ever created and released onto the interwebs — minus a bunch of YouTube videos from 2008 — remains. Not because I’m proud of it or because I’ll willingly refer people to it. But because it is all part of my story. I haven’t always been good at writing. Just like you and everyone else in the world, I started out writing garbage. I kept writing garbage and learned how to write things that could almost be considered not-garbage as I went.

I am the writer I am today because I started out not knowing what I was doing. Only through trial and error — and many embarrassing blog posts — did I grow and improve.

This is such an important part of my story, the same way all your less-than-impressive writing is part of yours. Why hide the most important plot points to make yourself look less flawed? There’s no reason to feel embarrassed or ashamed when you look back at your cringe-worthy content. You wrote it. At the time, it was the best you could have done.

Just because you’ve grown doesn’t mean you should forget about where you were. It’s because of your past that you’ve become who you are.

You may be a better writer now, but it’s because of your terrible beginnings that you improved. You had a foundation and somewhere to launch off from. There’s no shame in that. You don’t have to be proud of where you came from, but you do have to acknowledge how it paved the way for your growth.

People change. People grow. People stop being who they were and become better versions of themselves. Writers will always have proof of that. There are some old blog posts I don’t even agree with now because they were written from a place of ignorance and immaturity. I can’t help it that I was young and didn’t understand the real world. What matters is that I’ve learned from those mistakes and haven’t repeated them.

Not everything I’ve ever written was written well or with the best intentions. I’ve left it where it stands because even I need a reminder, sometimes, that I have come a long way since then — and have, still, such a long way to go.

Podcast episodes. Blog posts. Novels, poems, artwork, music. It doesn’t matter what you’re putting out into the world. If it’s bad, it’s bad. Use it as a learning experience and try to do better next time. Always have a marker in place, a bar that sets how much higher you need to reach in the future in order to grow and improve. Without it, there’s always the possibility you’ll keep doing the same things over and over, always expecting different results but never getting them.

Be proud of your terrible writing. At the very least, be proud that you tried, that you made an attempt at all. Not everyone can say that. Most people quit before they even start. But not you. You dared to fall flat, and maybe you did the first two, 10, 200 times. But the more you try, the more you increase your chances of success.

So keep trying. Always keep trying. Eventually, you’ll write something good. You’ll see. Hey — maybe what you’re writing now is already good and you just don’t know it.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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