So I’ve recently been pitching articles to magazines and applying for journalism work experience, some of which required me to put together a ‘writer’s CV’ and an online portfolio of existing work. I’ve managed to publish a few creative and factual pieces, all on scattered websites and for free, but I’ve been pretty disorganised about keeping note of what was published where, so tracking them all down meant a lengthy and frequently revelatory odyssey through my preoccupations and writing styles of the past.
Last term, I went to Unisex, a piece of verbatim theatre at my university made up of anonymously submitted pieces students had written about what they thought of sex. I’d submitted to it, so of course I sat through on the edge of my seat, waiting to hear my story. But reading something you’ve written aloud is the best way to see the flaws in it, and having it acted out in front of you was even more intensely so. All I could think during my piece was “Ouch, that’s a really clumsy sentence” and “But that doesn’t convey how I experienced it at all” and “Why the hell didn’t I edit this thing before I sent it in?” Re-reading my old work frequently re-played the process, and at the distance of years, it was almost as effective as hearing it aloud for bringing me these new revelations, usually about my mistakes:
1. When I was at school and did a work experience placement with a local newspaper, I didn’t have access to the programme for updating the paper’s website, so my supervisor at the placement published all my hard-hitting reports on school fairs and hedgehog charity appeals for me, under his own name. He meant well, but it now looks like an archive of stuff he wrote, and I’ve got nothing to show for that week.
2. A review I wrote for a magazine is on their website with bizarre italics formatting in the title that doesn’t make any sense. Cringe.
3. A short story I wrote when I was 16 and had never actually booked a train ticket and didn’t do any research for is set in a train station and has a wild inaccuracy about the price of a train ticket from London to Liverpool in the opening sentence. Cringe.
4. A poem from 2011 has been online in my name for three years with the protagonist’s name misspelled in the poem’s title. Cringe.
5. Every post I’ve written on this blog has had at least one view. I honestly wasn’t expecting that.
6. My most-viewed post is my review of The Wipers Times, and my third-most viewed is my ‘review’ of The Musketeers. I don’t watch enough TV to write about it often, but a lot of people seem to want to read about it.
7. If I type my name into the search function of the website for Young Writer
8. Search terms people have used to find this blog vary from the cheering, such as ‘why men speak more in group discussion’ (somewhere in the world someone is wondering about the exact same things I wonder about! And, through the magic of Google, found my thoughts on them! I hope you found my post helpful, random reader, it’s the least I can do for you making my day!) to the… less cheering (‘girl with the dragon tattoo anal rape scene’.)
9. I was published in the 2008 Red House Young Writer’s Yearbook. I had completely forgotten this, and have absolutely no memory of writing the story that was published, so it’s quite bizarre to be confronted with proof that it exists. I wrote it when I was fourteen, so obviously I couldn’t bear to read it now beyond shame-skimming, but apparently it’s called ‘The Dark Sea’ and must have been written shortly after I read ‘Not Waving But Drowning’ for the first time. It’s narrated by someone who’s doggy-paddling in the middle of the sea at night for reasons which are never made clear, and dreads going under and desperately struggles to make it back to land in what might just be an unsubtle metaphor for adolescent alienation. Dear God, is it bad.
10. Emily Dickinson is my heroine, but until I Googled ‘drowning poem’ just now, I didn’t know she wrote a poem about drowning that’s as wise and beautiful as all her other poems. Or, when I tried to find it again just now, that ’emily dickinson drowned kittens’ is a more popular search term than the search for the poem. Or that she actually did, according to Lyndall Gordon’s biography, which I’ve read, although I’d forgotten that particular fact much like I’d forgotten ‘The Dark Sea’. So that punctures my admiration for her – I’m fine with knowing that a writer I despise, like Radclyffe Hall, ‘ditched pets because of defects’, but I’m staring at the photograph of Emily on my noticeboard in shock and betrayal as I write this.
Ah, well. Emily Dickinson drowned kittens, and probably had a collection of not-very-good writing on an eclectic range of subjects from her teenage years among the manuscripts in the Amherst house, because possibly even a great writer isn’t perfect and anyone who ever wants to be a good writer needs to be a bad writer for a long time first.While editing my first draft of this blog post, I’ve swapped ‘eclectic’ for ‘eccentric’, ‘punctured’ for ‘punctuated’, and, most meta of all, ‘misspelled’ for ‘mispelled’. Because possibly the way to become a good writer is to learn from being a bad one, and the main lesson I’ve learned from putting together my writer’s CV is to always, always, double and triple-check and edit.