Look Back at Your Past

Look Back at Your Past

I received a giant box of old school papers this week, readers, and it has sent me on a fierce nostalgia trip. Among all the old science worksheets and math tests are some of my earliest "writings", including such classics as "The Turtle and the Cake" and "There's No Santa" (the twist: there is Santa). It's a lot of fun to make fun of myself and all the juvenile ways I tried to express myself. But I think it's important to look back not just for fun, but for a larger reason: to take stock of how far you've come.

We've all made giant leaps in our lives. I'll always remember something an elementary school teacher of mine said: she told us that all us third graders had already pretty much mastered one of the most difficult things to learn, and that was language. With the seemingly effortless imitations and mental leaps of toddlers, we learned to speak and to express ourselves, and in that process, we learned to think and how to learn more things in the future. With that in mind, I look at my childhood scribblings and see little me in the process of making giant mental leaps. I'm struggling to describe and to imagine, to generate conflict and character. I've got stories about treasure hunts and horse rides and mysterious monsters in the woods. I'm using language to express myself, and with each story, I got a little better.

We're getting better all the time.

That's another important thing that looking back can remind us of: we really are improving with each new effort to express ourselves. Whether we get a better grade on the essay or not, each new attempt at creative writing is going to teach us something about plot, character, or language. At the very least, a botched story attempt can teach us what NOT to do. We really wouldn't be the writers that we are without those hilarious fumblings, those terrible sonnets, those tone-deaf haiku.

Be proud of your art.

When you look back at your childhood writing, whether it's a kindergarten fairy tale or even something a few years ago that appeared in Teen Ink, be proud of what you've done. You've made an effort to express yourself, and to be creative. You've taken that hard-fought gift of language and done the really hard thing with it: you've turned it into something new, something all your own. So this week, take a look back, laugh at yourself, but thank yourself too. Good job, you.