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?