Hot Topic Tuesday - Writing & Regret by Kristen Tracy

don’t know if every writer has this problem, but I have a tough time throwing away old work. Because I might need it one day. Can my imagination really last forever? I mean, the ideas I had back when my mind was still forming might be worth something, right? Which brings me to high school. And college. And all the years after that. And the eight plastic tubs that I’ve got stacked in my living room closet that contain mounds and mounds of my formative work. (Based on the contents of my tubs, apparently I consider my formative work to be anything I created after third grade and before eight months ago.) Oh, my tubs. They contain so much. 

About a month ago I got an email that caused me to reevaluate those tubs and their contents. I was asked if I had any work (of the embarrassing variety) that I wanted to share with the general public.  I was asked to read this regrettable work at the Swedish American Hall alongside other writers who rent space at the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. The event was called: Regreturature: An Evening of Readings That Probably Shouldn’t See the Light of Day. And I agreed. I don’t want to admit how many hours I spent digging through my high school and college writings. Was I embarrassed by what I found? Maybe. But I was also incredibly happy that I wrote so much. 

I wrote about everything. (Even my parakeet. She was such a fantastic bird!) Not only did I write about everything, I censored nothing. A lot of what I found were poems that I turned in for peer critiques. I must have been insane. When it came to the sestina I gave them way too much. Let’s just say that sophomore year I was into full-frontal honesty. Okay. This is surprising because I’m afraid of so many things. (Bears especially) And yet I look so fearless on the page. I basically handed over my heart. In letters. In school assignments. In journals. In Valentines. In doodles. I haven’t read my regrettable work at the Swedish American Hall yet. That happens April 7th. But the process of combing through my old work made me wonder, what is regrettable work? 

Sifting through my tubs I found a lot of things that made me cringe. (Here are two lines from a love poem I wrote to a boyfriend: You give me love by teaspoon, when I want it to be poured. Too often I'm left unfulfilled. Too soon am I ignored.) Regrettable? Hmm. I’m glad I wrote them. At least I think I am. I must be, right? Because I’ve kept eight tubs of that stuff. 

What do you guys think? Is there such a thing as regrettable work? I worry that if I believed that one day I might regret my work in the future (this postulation feels very Marty McFly to me) that I wouldn’t have written it. This goes out to everybody, young and not young. 

Do you fear writing regrettable work? What would make that work regrettable?

12 comments:

Suzy Turner said...

I was going through some old files recently and I came across a short story of mine that was actually published in a local newspaper. It was called 'Oh Fred' and it was cringeworthingly (I know, not a word but we writers do like to make stuff up!) bad.
I was very embarrassed by it, to say the least!

Terra said...

I don't know if I regret WRITING anything --because all writing is ultimately just practice toward better, stronger writing-- but certainly the SHARING might be something to rethink!

Katy Longshore said...

Ditto Terra! I think I've kept everything I've ever written (except for the 800 page travel memoir that I only saved on floppy disc -- the world is a better place without it). But the thought of sharing any of it gives me hives.

Kelsey said...

I don't think we should ever regret our old and, frankly, crappy work. After all, all it did was help us inprove (hopefully!). It's funny; I have the opposite problem you do. Instead of keeping everything, I throw everything out. Even when, later, I'm inspired to try a certain story again. By then, of course, it's too late and I have to start over. So I say keep your old writing, and don't be ashamed of it. First, because it only helped you. And second, there could be a root for a good story somewhere in those depths.

kristen tracy said...

Great comments. It never occurred to me that I'd write something that wouldn't be seen. Every time i write I immediately assume I'm turning something private into something public. hmm. I guess not everybody feels that way. hmm. I'm second guessing this whole upcoming Swedish American Hall thing.

jenniferpickrell said...

I saved most of the stuff I wrote back in the day - it's like everyone else has already said, it's made us better writers. Plus it sometimes gives me ideas - those stories I started when I was a teen that I didn't quite have the life experience to write.

Sarah Darer Littman said...

I went out to dinner with friend after my *cough* 30 year high school reunion last summer. One of my friends (or maybe now I should say ex-friends- jk) who was editor of the high school lit journal brought the copy from our senior year, which featured several of my angsty poems, illustrated with very dark pen and ink drawings with skeletons and crazy stuff and then proceeded to READ THEM ALOUD OVER DINNER. At an OUTDOOR RESTAURANT. OMG. I wanted to sink into the pavement.

There were germs of good writing in them, but they were hidden in masses of self-indulgent drek. Also, looking at my artwork, I'm amazed none of the teachers called my parents and told them I needed psychological help.

Micol Ostow said...

I agree with Terra - nothing is regrettable if it brought you to the present! :)

kerrygans said...

Writing is a craft, and it takes years to hone it. A lifetime, really, since everything you write can always be improved if you only knew how.

In that respect, nothing we write is ever regrettable--it is practice, it is taking a risk by trying something new, it is the next step in our growth as writers.

While nothing is regrettable, that doesn't mean it all should be shared. Some writing is for the writer alone, and part of writerly growth is learning to see which writing falls into that category.

Melissa Walker said...

Agree with everyone that no writing is regrettable, but lots of it is tossable! (Another made up word?)

marissameyer said...

I think we all can relate to this! Like Terra said, I don't so much regret writing anything as I do sharing it. I self-published a book of poetry when I was 16 (oh, the teen angst!). There are now 120 copies of it somewhere out there in the world, taunting me . . .

At least I learned something of patience from that experience, though.

Adeeva Afsheen said...


Banned complain !! Complaining only causes life and mind become more severe. Enjoy the rhythm of the problems faced. No matter ga life, not a problem not learn, so enjoy it :)

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