Why It's Important as a Writer to Revisit Your Old Work

Thursday, December 15, 2016

I’m a writer.

I used to refrain from saying that out loud, the same way one might when they state they’re a rapper. Writer just doesn’t roll off the tongue comfortably. It often gets stuck under the weight of all the other words, trying desperately to sound genuine and unassuming.

After such a declaration, people will inevitably ask what I write, how I plan to incorporate it into my career, if it really makes any money, and ultimately they’ll reveal their preconceived judgments about writing not being a viable, or at the very least valid, opportunity in the real world. I’m not passing out my mix tape in front of a Walgreens, but I guess soliciting my work over Facebook statuses is a similar form of social harassment. Only my CD displaying a colored Sharpie-scribbled track list presents itself as a series of blog posts in size-12 Garamond.

I’m a writer and I know this because every time I ask someone I know to read my essays, poems, and random musings, they tell me they don’t understand so I must have done a good job. I’m a writer because for some reason even the smallest thing might elicit a tremendous urge to document it, whether it’s in a line, a verse, or a story taking shape on a piece of paper, voice memo, napkin, or on the back of a restaurant menu.

I am a writer foremost and then everything else follows. I am a person who often finds myself fully immersed in my daydreams, resulting in me not always being an active participant in the shared world. Writing is the only time where I can get lost in different worlds and different stories without being told that I’m not paying attention.

I used to be afraid to call myself a writer because that meant my passion was somehow concrete, instead of the all-encompassing and enveloping bigger-than-me undulations of feeling, of sentiment, of more than just existence. I know I’m a writer because somehow all of this is fucking important and in some way I feel like someone needs to know it. I’ll share my writing even with strangers, in the hopes that it might catch someone the way someone else’s writing has caught me.

Out of all the meaningful and sometimes meaningless phrases I’ve ever written in my life, I wrote one that stays with me.

I write small so you can’t hear me.

Words are dream’s muted instrument. My writing is intentionally quiet. It is meant to read in passing, in-between the varying pauses within your day. The spaces that make you stop, consider. It is not meant for you to hear me, but to hear something. The rest is yours to keep.


The first thing I remember writing was a tragically basic poem.

I love you, do you love me too?
I’ll be missing you

I remember how big and clumsy my handwriting seemed elbowing it’s way between college-rule lines, how I was still assessing which was the best way to form a lowercase “a.” Was it like traditional type, or the lazy reproduction where it only requires one rushed curve colliding with the tail end?

I remember being repulsed, even then, about how terrible the lines were. There’s no authenticity, I admitted as an acutely self-aware eight-year-old. I had strongly ill advised feelings for a boy since kindergarten who couldn’t tell me apart from my twin sister. Though at the time I was very much in love, I was discouraged that the words I wrote to express it were too explicit. They didn’t capture the category five hurricane in my young brain.

Though I continued to examine my recurrent undying love through a poetic lens, I actually found better direction through transcribing lyrics. I would listen to a song on repeat at least fifty times and then I would painstakingly write down what I heard in my notebooks, often pausing at least fifty more times before fully completing the task.

Before there were online lyric databases, there were CD booklets that contained lyric sheets and if you ended up damaging it, losing it, or using it as a poster like I did and never actually using them for their designated purpose, then listening to my CD player while rollerblading to the park meant I had to memorize the words. And I would take extra measures to learn them just so I could write them down.

As technology rapidly advanced I eventually acquired an mp3 player, but in a time predating the data plan, I couldn’t look the lyrics up. I would sneak my headphones into third period math in the 7th grade by way of wiring them through my sweatshirt and applied intense dedication to secretly writing down what I heard on paper for the rest of class.

I frantically wrote down Fall Out Boy lyrics as they were playing. Linkin Park also made a frequent appearance in cluttered notebooks. I attached myself to every word. I hung on every line. “Grand Theft Autumn” was my anthem and “Meteora” was my audio storybook.

Here is a poem I wrote after transcribing a song from The Hush Sound and a song by The Cure:
you’re the writer who can’t go on
and i’m the wreck they sing in songs.
like a thief…
you steal my heart.
i warned you
now i’m paper
…easily ripped

I was captivated by the weight of words, how they could be arranged to tell a story. I wanted to learn how to pair them to create meaning. It was like magnetic poetry. I had all of these single-words that could become complete phrases depending on where I decided to place them.

Some of what was born out of this time was more cringe worthy:
I saved every tear
I saved all my cries
Just so when it’s time
I could drown you in them

I forgot all the memories
I forgot about everything
Just so when I’m ready
I could kill you in your sleep

Here is one that is still morbid, but far less incriminating:
And if we don’t go together
Just get caught up in the time
I’ll be waiting for you at your end
Will you be waiting for me at mine?

While I can’t say that I was incredibly proud of some of my early work, I can see how everything started to move from this point forward. This transcription process slowly transformed my writing by allowing me to consider structure and somehow, everything started to come together in my mind.

I don’t think I ever thought I would be crediting the pop-punk era for my writing ability. I now have to tell the story that my passion for articulating my thoughts was bred from angst-ridden lyrics like my hands are at your throat and I think I hate you. But perhaps without bands like Story of the Year, I wouldn’t have my own story to tell.


I was a doodler of sorts. I couldn’t draw, but I would sketch words as I heard them. They would simply be a word or a phrase, a line, or merely a thought. They were never formed enough for me to have any complete pieces of work in my repertoire. They were just little subsections of things I would only revisit many years later.

Some of my word doodles were lists with no detail, like puzzles:

In high school, my writing would always be sparked by a word I loved or a phrase a teacher would say during class or by a person I admired that didn’t realize they were saying or doing anything poetic at all. But I would catch it and record it. My favorite word became “eloquent,” a word I stole after a girl I envied used it in her screen name. A teacher once described films as “conscious dreams” and now I never quite feel awake watching them.

The stories were always centered on a word or an idea and then it would spiral into something else, usually taking me somewhere different than I intended. On my old Xanga blog under the guise, misnomer rather, of MizDramaKween, I detailed a story about my mother getting stood up on a date. I think it was the image of her standing in the cold, wide-eyed and waiting, that made me pause. The roaring silence of it. I began with that image and suddenly by the end of my blog post, the universe was a chain effect of empty promises and my heart was sinking, too.

I sketched many short essays like the one about my mother. Reading back now, they seem cryptic. I never mention the “who” or the “what” really, just descriptions of feelings, generalizations, and some empty statements here and there that sounded nice. I was highly imaginative and took care with my writing, but I would categorize these early blog posts as a period of experimentation mostly.

Sometimes it’s like the world is flat. Just a flat-out plateau and any minute I’m going to find myself falling off the face of the earth.

Or often I feel that when I’m not looking I’m going to fall into a tall precipice. And I’m short so that would be impossible to climb out of.


Sometimes I wonder what it’s like to gaze through telescope eyes of someone else. Or microscope eyes. Maybe even glass. Maybe I’ll get the chance to someday.

There is a path, I know, that leads me to yours, but I have not enough power in my lenses to see the relationship. And not enough feeling left in me to look.

I feel as if I can gather some kind of meaning from these lines, but I would by lying if I claimed any real depth to the statements I made in some of my old writing. I was just someone who collected words and was desperate to see a relationship in them.

Some of my writing was even contrived nonsense:
I once was a cynic, a critic, acrylic, and partially made of snow.

During this time, I was never overtly specific, as if something was holding me back. At the time, I thought I was being deep and sincere. And though I don’t think it falsified my truth, I think withholding some aspects of the circumstances surrounding what compelled me to write in that moment in my writing prevented me from being completely honest, which prevented my writing from being completely real.

The first candid thing I wrote was a poem about my coworker who died when I was 16.

Theoretically fluent with a distinct notion
of feeling; of partialness; of wind
like mundane walls with scribbled cracks
the subtlety I can never quite pin
it was nice to meet you, I could never
emphasize again
the notes of words for you, my friend
is it terrible to think that tomorrow will prove
this wrong?
That you will always hold repetition in this song?
Like distance in two hearts
they were there all along…
and when I close my eyes, you will never be gone.
Absence is merely a state of mind
quintessential of a cursive rhyme
and Rex, you were the space that kept
the idea in line.

He stumbled off a five-story building. He often detailed his plans to write a thriller novel about a killer ice cream truck man. This poem, which was written on the back of algebra homework, is a ghost of him, still singing through MIA and Gorillaz lyrics, his favorite. Let’s turn forever you and me and all I wanna do is [gun sound effects] and take your money.

He was my friend and when he died I couldn’t stop thinking about the pavement. This was the first time I was truly vulnerable with my writing.  


Everything I wrote in high school was lowercase, indicative of the era in which they were written. I often wrote poems that provided instruction, a frail reminder not to let myself become engrossed by my emotion. When searching for old writings, I found a note written by my sister’s best friend in middle school. I told her about a boy that had told me that he would love if I ended up moving to a house near his. She responded with God Ariel, you care about the littlest things, don’t you?

I did. I cared about every word that I was told, every gesture that was made. And there was always someone on my mind.

inhale; retain the posture in your voice
and detach yourself; he fell out of love
close your eyes; don’t let yourself fade
in your thoughts; he’s all you’re thinking of

I’ve written love poem after love poem (upwards of about one hundred) about anyone I felt any type of way for. It was always about love for me, actually, any classification of it. These are lines from poems I wrote circa 2011:

I can’t imagine a three-dimensional you
who I used to love and dream next to


I wonder why there are so many chambers in a heart and if that’s what it means to compartmentalize.

Whether it was love, the idea of love, or the often misinterpreted I really care about you, but am not in a position to understand the actual weight of love and what that entails love, I felt it and I felt it profoundly. I found a piece of writing where I interrupted myself mid-poem and blatantly wrote I am deep, or something, as if I was criticizing myself. Even then, I knew my unrequited feelings were far too intense and a little excessive.

I wrote to the boy with black-framed glasses and blonde hair who I think used to be my best friend, but I keep forgetting his name every time I try to access that memory. I’ve written letters to the boy who talked to me about the universe for hours on my futon, but couldn’t bring myself to be with, that I’ve left on his doorstep. I’ve written many to others I’ve never sent. To the boy who asked me on a date with a fake wedding ceremony underneath a park tree. To the boy who moved out all of his things on my birthday.

I’ve imagined millions of combinations of words reflecting my feelings, thoughts, and reactions to these memories and the people involved within them, but rarely go back to reevaluate them. Even though I cringe and toss the paper at the time, there’s something about coming back again. I’ll read it and know that whatever words I chose most accurately depicted how I felt in that moment. They were really quite perfect; I just let myself get in my way of recognizing it.

I feel incredibly dumb in the moment, trying to recreate memories, feelings, and images through writing. But as months, and often years, pass before I read them again, I feel an incredible sense of relief knowing that I chose to remember the color of shoes he was wearing when I saw him for the first time after three years (black) or what caught me off-guard through the window as we were driving and I realized we had nothing in common (an airplane). I chose these images to remember and by writing them down I’ve solidified their place in my life; they’ve become permanent.


The first time I saw a dead body, I wrote that through the window he looked as if he was sleeping. I did not remember the detail that I pretended to fumble in my purse so that I could look longer.  I did not remember that we described him as an “expired patient” and that he had been filed under “imminent death.”

There is something about writing that solidifies memory and connects it with reality. I wouldn’t remember it the way it felt then if I didn’t write it down. Memory is a form of translation and memory doesn’t always translate accurately. I could accidentally lie to myself, my mind tricking me into remembering the shoelaces were blue and the airplane was headed west. But my writing won’t falsify the information. It won’t overcorrect because it has nothing to gain from it.

Writing isn’t the truth, but it is an accurate stretching of the truth. It can’t be considered reality because it only has one lens. While writing is always one-sided, it is only my side I see, after all. So it is my truth. And going back to the source is how I can revisit it in its purest form. When I write, I can’t alter my truth. I can only paint my version of reality in real time and as it is written, it becomes immovable. Though he was no longer alive, his body will always be seen as it was, through the window, sleeping.


I used to think that Michigan was personally calling to me. In the days of the burgeoning hipster, I loved Rogue Wave’s “Lake Michigan,” and Sufjan Steven’s “To Be Alone With You.” As a person who let music define my character, I thought because all of the music I loved frequently referenced Lake Michigan, I was being drawn there.

There is an ocean calm
swimming in my head
and when the waves take their name
i reflect on what you said
the currents not as strong, you say
the water’s not so deep;
but the undulations create storms
and then i cannot sleep

Music and poetry has always been a pull for me and I am always under its influence. Often, I see a pattern in my old writing and wonder why I neglected to pursue it. Why do I hold on to these things like a collector’s item and never take them off the shelf to examine them? Why am I always trying to find a connection? I’ve wondered that many times as I’ve procured ideas about places, people, things and put them into words. I think about that even now and because I won’t ever fully understand it, I write.

I have never made it to Lake Michigan, but sometimes I feel like it’s still swimming around in my head and I wake up every once in awhile to check the beach town weather.


My first ever poetry class made me feel incredibly untalented. On typed pages of my work, a first for me as all my poetry preceding it was exclusively handwritten, all I notice are the teacher’s marks of confusion, asking for clarity, for elaboration, for more.

I wrote a poem about my old house on Stirrup Trail, how it was almost like a body. It moved. It contained grid-like window screens we used to draw on with our spit. It described the forest, the wraparound deck, the wooden swing built between two trees, my family and I in one photograph. In the poem, the house shook and fell apart. But, there were so many comments written loud on the page.

I was confused. I had written something that meant something to me and no one else could understand it. So I tried to write something different. The best idea I could come up with was the image of a mandarin cloud.

I reach to unravel it’s skin in one perfect peel,
but instead it strips off into smaller pieces
that I mold into my fingers.

In the past I described my feelings, not images. I had only ever written for myself. As a novice metaphor writer who was commissioned to change, I often created images of cement, lampposts, clouds, and bedroom furniture. Another professor would later call these things “familiar,” which basically meant they were cliché. Somehow, though I thought I was being interesting and thought provoking, even my mandarin cloud was deemed to be familiar, as well as confusing. I let go of the mandarin cloud. I now examined all my poetry this way.

This is an excerpt of a poem my teacher asked us to write that was supposed to be inspired by a more established poet’s work:
The mirror’s lake must be forever,
entombing (familiar) you within its crevices (familiar)
and bone marrow. Somewhere I saw
you perpetually drowning
a swirling ghost (familiar).

In a lot of ways this new way of looking at my work was unconstructive and it felt like limiting myself. I wanted to write for me, I didn’t want to think about how anyone else could be possibly involved in what I felt and how I perceived it. But somewhere along the line, I accepted the criticism. While it was discouraging initially, eventually it forced growth. How else could I describe this? What makes this moment an intimate portrayal of how I felt it and how I perceived it? How could it mean more?

Yes, I was compelled to document my world, but how could I make it so that you understood it the way I saw it? Growing up I always thought about how I cannot take a picture of the landscape the exact way that I see it through my eyes. It always pales in comparison. What changed in my writing was not straying away from familiarity, but embracing it. Through my writing, I could attempt to take a picture of what was before me, the same way it is before you, only the way it looked to me.


I still dream in similar colors to my preexisting work, only now it requires more flair to examine them more closely. I still question if a comparable love exists with mine, only it sounds more like:

It took an army of rose-colored glass, but we still can’t riot with the past.

My elaborations are much more refined, clearer, and exposed. I do not try to hide behind the fanciful.

I do my best thinking at night, when everyone else is asleep.
There’s only ambient noises, the room in little uproars

and I can only see palm trees, faded filters on fancy cars,
vulgar lyrics in sans serif and syncopated drums, speakers pulsing.

I am sometimes a different character. My writing sometimes transverses perspective. This is an excerpt from a poem I hold close, “Syncopate, Saigon,” about my mother’s experience as an orphan in war-torn Vietnam.

i. Twin Dolls

Most of what I own is splintered
by the streets, but I have two dolls
whose eyes bead, their linen dresses
cross-stitched with identical stars.
Their faces are patched with so many
bruises, their porcelain cracks
in different patterns.

My writing now sounds dizzier, more stumbling, and much more like chaos, but it is a more defined representation of who I am now and how thoughts fall out of my head. I used to write angsty love poems and now I write angsty love poems with finesse, clouded by little intricacies. And I can also now write about the other little moments that fill the in-between.

It’s important to never delete your work, no matter how disappointed you are with it because, like a childhood home, you need a place to come back to. Your old writing is like a comprehensive roadmap of all of your failings and mistakes. It’s also a reminder of your progress. And sometimes you need to travel back home to redefine your current one.

I’m a writer; I’ve come to terms with acknowledging it. I’ve always been a writer, even from the beginning, and everything I’ve ever written is a piece of that. Every word, line, list, poem, song, essay, and moment is a part of my map. And I’ve come to think that maybe I write small so I can’t hear myself in the moment, only to hear it much much louder down the road.

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.