The Embarrassment of Early Writing


Recently as I was trawling through reams and reams of old writing, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun to post some of my really old stuff? I know! I’ll post the first chapter of the novella I wrote when I was seventeen!” I dug out the manuscript, realised I didn’t have an electronic copy anywhere (that’s how long ago I wrote it), and started typing it up in preparation for posting it.

But as I read and typed, my “Aha!” moment slowly but surely transformed into an extended and embarrassing “Oh no!” moment. Because even though I fondly remember that novella as the first time I decided to write a lengthy piece of fiction (and succeeded), it is also evidence that I didn’t start out as a good writer. It is evidence of the fact that it has taken me years, decades even, as well as two postgraduate writing degrees, to become a good writer. And I’m not even a great writer yet. That may take decades more, if indeed it ever happens.

Then another thought occurred to me. Will I look back on what I’m writing now and be embarrassed? Maybe as a 57-year-old I’ll be less embarrassed looking at the writing I’m doing as a 37-year-old compared to the writing I did as a 17-year-old. But embarrassment is embarrassment – it’s an emotion we’d prefer not to experience, regardless of the degree.

It’s also a fairly useless feeling. That potential future embarrassment is not preventing me from posting writing to my blog now. And I can’t change the fact that learning to become a good writer has been a process that required time and effort and experience. And if I’m happy to admit it, happy to tell you freely about my embarrassment, then why wouldn’t I be happy to share the evidence? After all, I love to be right. And here’s something I’m sure we can agree on: the first chapter of the novella I wrote when I was seventeen isn’t good.

So here it is (a rare exercise in humility for me). And the moral of this tale is no to give up just because you’re not good at something right now. Because with a little practice, you might get good. And with a little more practice, you might get even better. And for those of us who that something is writing, one day you might write something that somebody else agrees is good and wants to publish.


Untitled Novella: Chapter One

A strong breeze drifted in under the door and through an ornately carved hole high in the wall of the outdoor toilet. Jeudi shivered quietly as she sat on the cold, hard, plastic toilet seat. It was a tiny room of slated wood, furnished with spiders of all sorts. With her pants around her knees, Jeudi felt strangely but understandably vulnerable. The toilet was a little less than twenty metres away from the main house, and at night, even for a woman of twenty-two, it was a basically scary trek.

Jeudi stood, pulled up her pants and grasped the rickety chain, which she pulled to flush the toilet. She slid the lock across and peered out the door. Darkness and the sound of a dog barking in the distance greeted her. She started down the paved path slowly and cautiously, at first. Gradually, her step quickened and by the time Jeudi was within ten metres of the house, she was running to meet the back door. When she arrived there, she yanked the door open, stepped inside and slammed it shut. Her fingers fumbled on the key of the old-fashioned lock. The door would not lock. She pushed upwards on the door and finally the key turned a full circle and the lock slid into place.

Jeudi pressed her hands against her chest to feel her racing heartbeat. Soon enough it slowed and she crept into her bedroom.

The house in which Jeudi now lived was very old. There were quite a few in the area similar to it, but “The Willows” was the largest. The house was double storey and each room had severely high ceilings. Since Jeudi lived alone, she was planning to advertise for boarders. The amount of space in the house was twice what she could use. The house had been left to her in an inheritance from her great aunt Catherine, who had recently passed away, and although they hadn’t been particularly close, Jeudi had felt a strange affinity with the house.

The chamber now serving as Jeudi’s bedroom had previously been occupied by one of her second cousins, Rebecca. Rebecca had left a long time ago and was now, herself, in her sixties. The bedroom had a lot of feminine charm but also an underlying attitude that she could identify with.

Jeudi climbed into her double bed and yanked the heavy doona up around her neck. She picked up the smooth, black remote control and pressed the button to turn on the television. A well-dressed newsreader appeared on the screen. Jeudi settled in comfortably. Her new job as the junior executive adviser to the Minister for Finance had meant she was on her feet more than she had ever been. Dinners, cocktail parties and conferences that the minister had attended had also required her presence, so Jeudi hadn’t been up on any current affairs that didn’t relate to finance. The newsreader turned to a new item.

“And terror is in the hearts of many women tonight as the third rape in as many nights has been reported. It is commonly believed among the police ranks that a serial rapist is now operating in the Southern Districts area.”

Jeudi gasped. This was precisely the area in which “The Willows” was situated. She caught herself before her imagination ran too wild. As awful as these crimes were, it was likely that the offender would be caught soon. She flicked the television set off, removed her glasses and settled down to sleep.


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