I think I’m going to have to stop re-reading my old stories. It’s a compulsion of mine, but it’s doing me no good at all at present.
It’s the reason I have hundreds of pictures drawn by other people on the walls of my house, but very few of my own.
It’s also a bit like not wanting to look at old photographs of myself, I suppose. (To be honest, I don’t like looking at new photographs of myself either: there’s just only so much lanky, gauche awkwardness one person can take, especially when you know that’s the packaging people are judging your soul upon. And if you were subject to Fashion at any point during your childhood, that’s the kind of judging that can scar you for life, I tell you.)
As many of you may have probably guessed, I’m not a teenager anymore, so photos of my past have both that nostalgic quality and that vague horror of “I look so young. Dear god, if that’s true, how old do I look now?”
But with my old stories, it’s even worse than that, and here’s why.
Like a lot of children, I tried keeping diaries, once. They were very boring and most of them had pictures of cats on (If you get given a diary or calendar for Christmas when you’re a child, it will either have pictures of cats or planes on. Trust me on this.) And in common with most diaries, it had the smallest possible amount of space available for writing down important stuff. So I gave up keeping diaries at the age of around twelve, and started keeping stories instead.
Apart from a blip where I burnt a lever arch file full of longhand sheets at the age of eighteen, I have kept every single story, poem, script, scribble, drabble and unwarranted splurge I have ever written. My stories are my diaries. They’re my life, in longhand and typeface and annotated revision notes. Everything. You can track my emotional state of mind, my friendships, my obsessions, by following the fortunes of the characters and the ways they fall when they fall.
(And believe me, they fall: I am incapable of being nice to my characters for more than five minutes at a time)
I love my writing. It’s my in-depth, long-term memory. But it’s also my curse. Especially with the internet now making it more possible than ever for me (and others) to revisit my old stories where they’re published. But are they hideously embarrassing shellsuits, or are they classic vintage gems?
Well, of course, they’re both. But it’s actually the good ones, the diamonds amongst the paste, the real silk against the nylon, that are causing me the most problems. You’d think the truly awful ones would be worse, really.
See, they’re good. And I actually believe that. (no mean achievement: see previous entries regarding severe self-esteem issues. It takes me years to believe something that difficult. Alice and her Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast has nothing on me.)
The problem is, I don’t know if I’ll ever write anything that good again. Suppose that’s it, for me? That story there, the one I wrote six years ago – that was my candle in the dark, the one spark from the flint. That’s your lot, bucko, put down the fountain pen and step away from the keyboard. And it makes me crazy with self-doubt, which is really not the optimum state of mind for any writer attempting to get on with the Next Big Thing.
But I carry on reading them anyway, because I both love them and hate them. They are self-affirming and self-destroying, all in one. Do you do the same?
*yes, you saw what I did there.