Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My ten thousand hours

I was going through my old writing earlier in the week. And by old writing, I mean everything that I’ve kept since I was about twelve. My mum has some of my earlier stuff, complete with original illustrations, but I’ve got most of the stuff from twelve on. Probably because by that stage I was SERIOUS and INTENSE and YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND ME and HOW DARE YOU LOOK THROUGH MY THINGS! THAT’S PRIVATE!

Anyway, it’s cringe worthy stuff.

Young Jen, I say in a patronising tone to my younger self, this is truly terrible. I mean, god-awful. Your epic poem set in convict era Australia? There are Vogons who can’t handle reading it, it’s so very, very bad. So bad that with the right spin it could almost pass for satire. But then you realise it’s just shit.

The fantasy novel you wrote in the back of your geography book, with pages taped in from typing class? What the hell is going on with that? It’s juvenile and terrible, but those are forgivable sins. What’s unforgivable is the plot. Usurped prince escapes an attempt on his life by his evil uncle (naturally) and is recaptured, and escapes, and is recaptured, and escapes, and is recaptured and escapes ad infinitum. Ad nauseam. You  know what would make more sense? If the uncle put a sword through the kid’s throat in the first chapter.

But don’t let me dim your obvious enthusiasm for clichéd derivative fantasy.

Oh, I see you didn’t. Because here’s another one. This one is interesting because it actually has the germ of an incredibly creepy idea – an evil mage that puts people in his thrall and then steals their eyes. Sadly, while this would work incredibly well if I could draw like Edward Gorey, it works less well as a rambling-as-all-hell get-distracted-by-a-gazillion-useless-side-characters, unfinished piece of dross.

From The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey.
I want to draw like this. 

But when I’m tired of cringing at my old stuff, I start to smile at it instead. The way you smile when a kid gives you a picture of a blob with another blob attached, and some wavy lines, and some other slightly different blobs.

That’s lovely, you tell them. What is it?

And it turns out that it’s you.

That’s what reading my old writing is like. It’s a mess, seriously. But it’s an enthusiastic mess. It’s full of spelling mistakes, and bad grammar, and clichés, and pot holes, but it’s also full of potential.

You know how they say you need to do something for ten thousand hours before you become an expert at it? I’ve got a lot of hours behind me now, and a lot of terrible writing to show for it.

And hey, young Jen, I tell myself in a slightly less patronising tone, you’re still doing this. And, good news, you got a little better at it.

Have you kept any of your old writing? Are you brave enough to revisit it?


  1. That prince story would be great as a movie: "Monty Python and the Escaping Prince." Where all sorts of drama unfolds with ingenious escapes for a full half hour, and then finally the uncle says, "Oh, for Christ's sake," runs him through the throat, and walks off the set. : p

    Also, that 10,000 hour saying is a bit of a myth. It's not just the time you put in, but your focus and ability to constantly improve. And in that I'd say you've done dang well.


    1. I have improved at least 6000%. Not in maths, obviously.

      I still have a long way to go, but it's fun working to get there!

  2. okay, i had to chortle at the mention of Vogons - it can't be as bad as Vogon poetry, Jen, surely? I do have one book that I wrote 4 years ago that I consider revising. It's not a bad concept and has some interesting characters. But the plot is so nonexistent that I'd have to basically start from scratch. And, anyway, I have too many ideas for new books. Maybe some of them will suck too, who knows. The best thing is in the trying and the hope of getting better.

    1. I'm afraid it is worse than Vogon poetry. Alex!

      It's great going through old stuff and finding your concept and ideas are still interesting. Because everything else can be improved!



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