For the last 9 years or so, I've kept a copy of a novel that I wrote during my junior year of high school. It's so crappy: I think I have a Word 95 file of it somewhere, but it mainly exists in this binder, which turns out to be just the right height to use as a foot rest, to keep my feet planted on the floor while I sit up at my desk.
It's so bad folks. So bad. A few years back I reread the prologue in order to rip off a few things for a different, only slightly less terrible story. The plotting isn't particularly inventive, the characters are juvenile, and the settings are bland.
I realized the other day that it's like all of those shell scripts that I wrote when I was learning to program that are hundreds of lines long, that intermingle argument parsing with actual logic, with horrible unabstracted data structures and access patterns, and implementations that are neither clear nor efficient. Those same scripts that I run a few dozen times a day because they just work, and if I don't think about it too hard, it doesn't matter much.
There's also the two hundred thousand words of total crap that I wrote for my last job. And another couple of un-salvageable fiction projects that I didn't even bother to print. Even with my current job, I sometimes come across awful paragraphs that I know that I must have written a few years ago, but completely fail to understand what I was thinking.
We all, probably have our own examples of the detritus of our past efforts. I spent a long time feeling like these concrete examples of my ineptitude were a burden, a body of work that I had to revise before I could start working on new projects.
I learned a lot from writing these crappy pieces of code, the failed stories, and terrible pieces of work product. Furthermore all of the work I've done in these areas since producing the terrible dark piles, has been better, and continues to get better.
Embedded in the idea that these dark piles are a burden is the notion that the production of text, of code is difficult, challenging, and the majority of the work in creation. But this isn't true. The work is in figuring out the interfaces, the implementation, figuring out the structure and flow of ideas through a system of functions or paragraphs. Typing it all out is the easy and fun part. It is, of course, important to revise and polish work, but sometimes it's enough to learn from your mistakes, to remind ourselves of our progress, and move on.
Every time I sit down to write, I put my feet on this binder and remember how far I've come.
More than anything, I am thankful.