If we are being completely honest, as students, we tend to write papers for classes with no intention of ever opening the document after we hit the “Submit Assignment” button. We set it aside in our pile of completed tasks and just move on to the next one. For me, there’s the added difficulty that nearly every time I look back on my old writing, I can’t help but think to myself, “I can’t believe I wrote that!”
In my own experience, I have found that the main reason I do not like my older writing is because I don’t feel like it sounds like me. The sentences often feel clunky, and my arguments just don’t make sense. However, this feeling shows me that I have grown as a writer. The feeling of embarrassment about what I wrote is valid; it is not representative of how I write today. Rather than holding onto embarrassment, I can use it as a tool for reflecting on my writing. Reflecting on my previous works allows for a more clear understanding of what goes into my writing process now.
If our writing is a reflection of our thought processes, there are two questions that we need to ask ourselves–Who were we when we wrote this, and how have we changed since then?
A little perspective
Whether you believe it or not, you have grown significantly since you first started college. Every class you have taken has done something to expand your knowledge, whether that’s by digging deeper into the topics of your major or expanding outward to new topics. Not only has your knowledge grown, but your understanding of the writing process has also grown.
Growth is a slow process, meaning that you really don’t feel the effects of it until you look back beyond the last semester. To start some of that work, you might reflect on questions like these:
- What writing habits did you have as a freshman?
- When and where did you write?
- Did you start with an outline, or did you jump right into writing?
- What do you know now that you wish was present in your past writing?
- How would you answer this prompt differently if you wrote it now?
Once you’ve reflected on questions like these, you may be able to explore that feeling of shame with more perspective. View it as an indication of your growth rather than as a deterrent from reading your old work. If you are still figuring out your writing process, then I would highly recommend this blog post about the writing process of a recovering procrastinator. Our writing process changes as we do, and sometimes what used to work doesn’t anymore. That doesn’t mean we should be ashamed of the ways we used to write; instead, it can show us how far we’ve come in our broader writing journey.
Our writing is always changing to reflect who we are. I know I am not alone in feeling that my older work is not up to par with my work today; I am sure that my professors feel the same way about what they wrote while they were an undergraduate student. This process never really ends.
The discomfort that we feel when we review our work can sometimes be crippling, and our embarrassment can quickly turn into shame when we don’t offer ourselves grace. But what we wrote before might not be what we would write now. Let’s change our embarrassment about what we wrote into pride for how far we’ve come.