My wife pointed me to a literary magazine requesting short story submissions. I had a piece she thought would be perfect for the theme. I agreed, and I started looking for it.

This led to converting a lot of my old writing to more current formats. Which also meant reading a lot of my old writing. (I have my limits. I dumped all the poetry into its own folder, and that will remain untouched, possibly forever.)

I have to work very hard to be compassionate to myself.

Few things will test your ability to be compassionate to yourself like rereading short stories you wrote in middle and high school. (There’s a very obvious point marking when I saw The Matrix, and oof.)

But I found something interesting. The more I read, the less embarrassed I felt. It was like aversion therapy. My wife’s constant, gentle encouragement was also crucial to letting go. And so the further I went through my work, the more I was able to appreciate how far I’ve come. It provided context.

In college, I wrote a short piece about the end of the world that reaches for an aloof, comic voice. There are even three random footnotes with throwaway jokes. (These are Terry Pratchett inspired, not David Foster Wallace.) The piece tries so hard to hit the voice that all you can hear is the strain.

A few years ago, I started collecting some thoughts for a future writing project. I wrote a brief sketch of a side character’s childhood. It’s six hundred words. Because I wasn’t trying so hard—because I wasn’t trying, because I let the piece speak for itself—the voice that comes through is its own creature. It’s strong and consistent and, from my own judgment, effortless.

Writing is such a solitary activity, and it’s permeated with self-doubt. It’s a pretty amazing thing to see your own development.

And I can always use a reminder that I wouldn’t be who I am, if I hadn’t been who I was.

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