Challenge 4: How to mercifully review past writing?

There is an art to looking back on previous writing assignments. First, you have to find it one of the 62 file folders that are cluttering your computer. Then, once you find it, you take a deep breath as you open the document. The screen lights up, and your mind immediately mutters, “this is a bad idea” as you scrunch your face and begin to scroll.

Ah, yes. The horror of having to review previous writing assignments.

In my case, this specific task involves looking at essays in which sentences run-on for four lines, and the introduction contains at least one broad generalization about ‘society.’ Even more, I admit that I am still actively trying to kick these habits (more recently, the overuse of ‘society’ generalizations. I’m working on it, Ray).

BUT! That isn’t to say that looking back at previous writing pieces has to be a face-scrunching task of disgust. I do realize that looking back on anything, whether it be an old essay, or a photograph of yourself as a pre-teen wearing youth convertible cargo pants (what?), is, by its very nature, somewhat cringe-worthy. But there are some essays (and photographs) that I can look back on with fondness, or even pride.

So why is it that some essays prove less cringe-worthy than others?

I’d argue that the answer lies in expressions of both authenticity and honesty. In fact, there is one previous essay I’ve written that is, in my opinion, a helpful illustration of this phenomenon. It is my Why I Write piece, crafted for my Gateway portfolio (which we’re not going to talk about as a whole, for reasons listed above).

Before I make my argument for why this text represents my writing at its most authentic and honest, here is an excerpt:

Perhaps confidence is the beginning of the understanding as to why I write. After many years of defining myself in the eyes of others, I sacrificed a sense of my power in constructing my own identity. I reclaim the confidence to use that power through writing, obtaining a clearer picture of the aspects of my own personality—the good and the bad—as well as a means through which to negotiate that revelation. The more I write, the clearer the picture becomes, and the more confident I become in practicing self-acceptance.

I love this paragraph for two reasons. First, it claims that ‘confidence’ is merely a consideration in determining why I write, rather than the definitive reason. At that very moment in my life, specifically as a junior just beginning the MiW program, ‘confidence’ was my argued reason as to why I write. It was the first thing that came to mind in answering the prompt, and was thus my honest response. And there is truth in that claim. I don’t, however, claim to know that I am correct in making that assumption, but rather that is worthy of consideration. It represents my closest, most honest attempt to make sense of my life at that very moment.

Second, in addition to the claim that such ‘confidence’ is a consideration, rather than an absolute, it also acknowledges that such a claim is not definitive. That is, understanding is a process, and my concept of ‘why I write’ will transform as I grow as a writer and a human being. The bubble of college life is real, as I’ll truly realize upon graduation. To assume the concreteness of all decisions made in college is to ignore the inherent transience of college itself, even if said transience isn’t completely apparent at this very moment.

While my capstone site itself does not utilize the personal essay format reflected in my Why I Write piece, my project’s introductory essay does speak a bit to myself, my process, and my perception of my project’s significance as bookend of my MiW experience. As such, I want to craft an essay that I’ll be proud to look back on.

I acknowledge that this may be a hopeless effort, if it is truly impossible to craft something of which your older, more mature self won’t be embarrassed. But, to approach the essay with the knowledge that both honesty and an authentic reflection of thought may prove beneficial in the long-run, well, that is a goal I’ll happily pursue.

One thought to “Challenge 4: How to mercifully review past writing?”

  1. Hi Lindsay,

    I totally agree– looking back at old writing pieces is scary. And I also will say that honesty is a predictor of my feelings about them. My favorite pieces, no matter what year they’re from, are the ones where I remember feeling confident in my writing. This confidence did not reflect my knowledge of the topic or my writing skill, but rather my genuine interest in exploring the topic with words. That is something that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to feel during my Capstone project. But luckily, after turning my angle a little bit, I felt truly connected to what I was writing and wasn’t just putting words on the page.

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