For a ten year period (from ages 16-26), I wrote a lot of poetry. For the better part of the last ten years though, that work has gone mostly forgotten and unread by anyone. That seemed like kind of a shame for all the time and energy I’d put into it for a quarter of my life. So I began toying with the idea of compiling and publishing all those poems.

Then last week, I went back and read a half dozen poems I wrote in 1998. I cringed at them, all of them. They were so full of teenage angst and melodrama. Oh, and they were terrible. So, so terrible. This shouldn’t be surprising (although it was – no one ever told me my poetry was terrible, but clearly they should have) since it was among the first poetry I’d ever written.

The immediate effect it had on me was more surprising: Is all my writing that bad? Will I look back at my first book, Building a Better Law Practice, in ten years and wish someone had just put me out to pasture? I have important messages to share with lawyers about having a successful law practice, but am I saying it in such a way that people wish they’d never learned to read in the first place rather than have to be subjected to that tripe?

I am not often plagued by self-doubt, but in that moment, there was a sudden and unremitting barrage of it. I’ve recovered … mostly (but man, was that some bad poetry. I feel like I need to send a letter to my high school literature teacher questioning why she never told me to stop subjecting her to such bad writing.).

Be careful before you go back and read your old writing. It may well be a minefield that does lasting damage. And if you do go back and discover to your horror what you’re responsible for creating, just operate under the assumption that the intervening years and experience have improved your output. That’s what I’m doing.

Photo by Yaffa Phillips.

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