Have you ever looked at your past work, and just…winced? That happened to me earlier this week.
I rarely pose for life drawing sessions anymore, but my favorite instructor was looking for a model for his new studio’s inaugural class. I always learn something about the artistic process from listening to his lectures while I pose. How could I not take the opportunity to sit for him?
That said, I was terrified that I was out of practice. It had been the better part of a year since I posed for a life drawing session. So I unearthed my old notebooks that I kept from my previous sittings to do some studying.
See, when I was working regularly as an artist’s model, I kept pretty rigorous notes on poses—how long I could hold each one, which life drawing groups I had used it for. I figured I could use my records to inspire and construct some interesting but easy to hold poses.
Sure enough, all those records were there, laid out in neat lists with pose descriptions and durations. But I had forgotten that I’d used these journals for other notes as well.
The first thing I found was a list of positively terrible fiction ideas. Sexy cyberpunk motorcyclist with a dragonscale suit? Really? Next, I ran across an ill-advised and poorly researched plan to get more Instagram followers. By the time I came to the very agitated diary entries about polyamory and the jealousy I was experiencing, I was cringing. And, of course, the whole thing was peppered with to-do lists that were ridiculously excessive even by my current standards. I was so embarrassed that I had to actually close the notebook.
I wish that I had the excuse that this notebook was an ancient relic from a past life, but it was only from three to four years ago. There were even outlines in it for some of my posts on this blog. That realization made me cringe even more. Past me with all her terrible flaws and immature sensibilities had been putting her thoughts and opinions out on the Internet, for everyone to read forever. Good Lord.
But here’s the thing: if me from the time of that notebook read a journal from, say, when I was in college, she’d wince too. She’d have learned so much from modeling full-time and running an artistic business that the college kid version of her would have seemed ridiculously naïve.
I think that’s actually a good thing. It means we’re not static. It means we can change for the better. And for me, it’s a gentle reminder to look at things like my written work in context—as a growth opportunity rather than as a condemnation. I am not a terrible person because I was wrong in the past.
Because let’s face it, in three to four years I’m going to cringe at what I’m writing right now.
I’d actually even take that belief a step further and say this: if, when you look at your past work, ideas and thoughts, you don’t want to close that notebook or hide under the covers, you’re not growing as fast as you could. It’s actually a good thing.
And here’s the second lesson. Scattered among all those awful ideas were some good ones. Right next to that derivative, cliché cyberpunk train wreck was the seed idea for my current novel. Some of those early blog posts were actually pretty good. And here and there, I found some modeling work that I genuinely love.
Sometimes my ideas were pretty terrible. But sometimes they weren’t. And I couldn’t tell which was which in the moment. They felt the same. All I could do was my best, and be kind to myself. And that’s true now as well.
So remember, you might be wrong—but you might also be right. One of the notes that made me smile was that, four years ago, I had written in big, bold letters to get to know a certain person better. He and I are now celebrating our two year anniversary next month.
Maybe that notebook wasn’t so bad after all.