Archives. Backlists. As writers, we’ve all got “em-at least for those of us who’ve been pounding away at our keyboards for untold years. These early projects have allowed us to grow as writers, and maybe even as people.

These projects do not, however, showcase our best work. Am I the only one who wrote a first novel while still in elementary school? Surely not.

My sixth-grade effort is pitiful in the extreme. To make it all the more embarrassing, it happens to be a spec Star Trek novel. A large part of me is eternally grateful I never got around to submitting it, since the safest place for this manuscript is most definitely a cobwebbed binder in the bottom of a box in the back of that storage compartment I never, ever visit.

Well, a few days ago I happened to be cleaning out some junk at the bottom of the storage compartment in question. The box was open in front of me, filled with all sorts of childhood knickknacks and old report cards (oddly enough, that “A” in fifth grade Language Arts still makes me proud). And at the bottom of that box was a bright red, doodle-ridden binder that made my heart leap out of my chest.

While I’m in admission mode, I should also reveal a second discovery at the bottom of that box. I had almost entirely forgotten about its existence, but stored in a taped-together cassette holder was a childhood project even more humiliating. At the age of twelve, apparently I thought it would be a good idea to record an audiobook version of that first novel. Miracle of miracles, I happen to still own a cassette player. What a trip it was to hear my own prepubescent voice stumble over those awkwardly written sentences! I have a bad feeling that if I don’t burn those tapes today, they might one day make an ominous appearance at a future wedding toast. (Note to self: Never get married.)

So why am I writing about all this? Nostalgia. Nowadays, I hem and haw over writing deadlines and daily word count minimums. I’ve been told countless times, by people who really know what they’re talking about, that the best way to pursue literary success is to treat writing with all the persistence and professionalism as my day job. Hence deadlines. Hence word count minimums.

But back in the day, when I wrote that Star Trek novel, I don’t remember being concerned about matters of productivity. I wrote because that’s what I felt like doing. Now, if I only ever wrote when I felt like it, I wouldn’t be very productive at all, and yet that first novel truly was the laudable result of a twelve-year-old burst of creative passion.

Nostalgia can be both a beautiful and ugly thing, but today it feels especially beautiful. The memory of that book caused me to write several thousand words this evening, words that flowed as quickly and effortlessly as the mighty Amazon.

A lot of the time, looking backwards results in regret and anguish, but every once in a while it reminds me of who I am and encourages me to keep going.

What kind of nostalgic efforts do the rest of you keep hidden away in your proverbial (or not so proverbial) abandoned storage lockers?

6 responses on “Nostalgia

  1. Frank Morin

    I am so grateful my first novel never got published. It’s fun to retain that creative thrill I felt when I first sat down to start writing, but I’m never looking back as far as skill or craft. Take the best and keep moving on. Hopefully no one will ever open those old files (I still keep them around too).

  2. Evan Braun Post author

    A lot of young people (funny that I no longer quite consider myself a “young person”) are actually publishing those early first efforts these days. Due to the proliferation of vanity publishing and ebooks, authors as young as 10 or 12 are occasionally taking the plunge and releasing their books. They’re proud of them right now, but I have a feeling they’re going to be pretty embarrassed about the availability of these books another 5-10 years to reflect on them.

  3. Colette Vernon

    I have a niece who has written and illustrated a few picture books that her mother had professionally bound. She’s very proud of them and I think having them makes her a more enthusiastic writer. She’s young still, but I’d be willing to bet a heavy sum of money if I had it, that she will end up being an amazing and prolific writer someday.

    As for me, I didn’t remember many writing projects from when I was young, other than a fetish for writing in my pesonal journal. I was surprised about a year ago when my mother handed me a contact paper-covered booklet I’d put together when I was probably about ten years old. The contact paper had very 70’s-ish orange and brown horses running across it and I had written the first few browned pages to appear like a novel’s, including copyright dates, a made-up publisher, and a dedication at the front. I didn’t even finish the story, something about a horse, but it makes me smile whenever I see it. Nostalgia can be a good thing.

  4. Clancy Metzger

    My first literary work (circa early grade school) is in a scrapbook my mother made and features my own art work as well as a very cool story about marbles (I dunno…). Follow that with a decade of teenage angst written poetry and I have a wealth of embarrassing writing to hold onto and keep safe for posterity.

  5. David Carrico

    I didn’t write as a kid. I do have some mildly dreadful Tolkien derivatives from my college years, however.

    My first novel was finished in 2002, after being written and rewritten over (ahem) years. Publishable as is? No. But I still feel a very strong attraction for it, and I haven’t totally given up on it. I may give it one more revision one of these days, just to see what happens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *