I have an interesting past. My family has often talked about how I should write down everything I’ve been through so I can write a memoir when I’m older, but mostly I just like telling people the random stuff that has happened to me throughout the years.
The least random of things is the fact that I was homeschooled from grades 2 to 12. (For non-Americans, and those unfamiliar with the American school system, that’s ages 8 to 18.) I had a very unique structure to learning, where my mom was my teacher, and I had a certain number of subjects that I needed to fill with courses. When I started showing a true desire to write, more than just random little stories with no substance, my mom decided to embrace that.
At twelve, I started writing my first novel. It was my English Literature class. It was structured as this: week 1, write an outline, week 2, write chapter one, week 3, write chapter two, etc. Each week had a full assignment and at the end of that week my mom would read it and we would go over it together. It worked surprisingly well. (I won’t share my idea because I plan on revisiting and rewriting it soon and trying to publish it.) There were four main characters, so I learned how to write different voices, and I spent a lot of time realizing how much I rely on patterns whilst writing.
Even though I had written the entire outline, I didn’t finish writing the book that school year. I got halfway through, having written about 60,000 words, and then my life went into an upheaval. I don’t think I wrote much of any original work between then and sixteen, but at sixteen (or nearly sixteen) I decided I needed to finish that first novel. It was just standing there, with the end unwritten. So I finished with about 101,000 words. My writing had changed so much that it wasn’t even the same story anymore, but I at least completed the idea. Then I set it aside.
I didn’t touch it for years. I had my grandmother, who has experience copy editing, read it. (Embarrassment ensued.) And then I decided to read it myself. I felt a complex mass of emotions attached to it. Obviously, the story, the characters…they’re my actual children. They’re the first characters I fully developed, the first world I created, they will always be precious to me. But I also realized that yes, while I have definitely gained a very distinct fiction writing voice and style, I lost a lot of my storytelling skills as I moved into my teen and adult years. Reading the first half of this book, it was as if I were writing about friends and people. There were so many tiny details of those first 12 chapters that I cannot seem to ever write into my newer work. Every characters had multiple hobbies, they were constantly involved in action, there was emotional impact and no overdramatic teenage love bogging down the story.
I can’t seem to write that way any more. It makes me really sad, and I have been trying to get myself back into the frame of mind where I could possibly write like that again, but match it with my more refined style. It is a difficult task, and most likely a large component as to why it is so hard for me to finish large, world building projects these days. I keep second guessing my ability to write characters who are people and not just words on a page.
Let’s take a lesson from this: don’t discredit your writing from when you were younger. You can learn a lot from rereading your first stabs at novels or poems or short stories or whatever it is that you write. You can physically see how much you have grown, and you can pinpoint things that you’ve lost along the way. As a writer, this is important, because writing is a consistently changing and evolving process and we are our own best teachers.