Last week, my betta fish died. This was a downer not only because Elliot was a cute and reliable pet, but because the way he died—overheating in the Virginia summer—should not have happened. Last year, I co-authored a book about DIYing a “smart” fish tank that relies on a Raspberry Pi and text-messaging to alert the owner when the tank is too hot or too cold. I literally invented this device and yet, this summer, I didn’t have it turned on.
Elliot’s death wasn’t just tragic; it was frankly embarrassing.
However, as a person who lives my life in public—as a writer and blogger—I’ve slowly gotten used to the fact that my embarrassments are public, too. (Though luckily, they don’t usually involve a death count.) My books and blog posts are always coming back to haunt me.
The main source of my embarrassment is this: I can’t read something I wrote more than two years ago without cringing. I can’t focus on the content, instead getting distracted by all the ways I would improve on past Lauren’s clunky wording.
At their best, my old blog posts needs a good editor, preferably the me of today. At their worst, they’re just plain offensive. I once referenced transgender people with a slur. (A lot of people give Tumblr teens a hard time for being overly PC and I get it, I’ve been mocked for cooking Japanese food in my own kitchen, but I wish something like Tumblr had existed when I was a teen to remind me that people who aren’t me exist and deserve respect.) It gives me shivers to notice the subtly sexist wording in a post about my first Gunpla, “begging my boyfriend to buy me one” probably because that sounded like wording in a magazine, even though I had a good job and was perfectly capable of buying my own merch.
When people want to insult me online, they retort to calling me fat and ugly. But if they really wanted to get under my skin, they could try dissecting my old writing. “Her syntax is a mess!” “This run-on sentence is criminal!” Not to give anyone any ideas. After all, the troll inside my head is already doing this.
Still, there’s no running away from my embarrassing former self. My writing lives forever online, which means there will always be old pieces for me to over-scrutinize. There’s nothing to do except move past it. Here are my coping mechanisms for you to borrow:
- It’s OK to revise stuff. Sometimes I look at old posts that are still popular, and realize I’m not sure I even agree with myself anymore. You can dig up an old post and polish it up and re-post that thing. My My Little Monster post is a great candidate for this since it’s still controversial, still one of the top five posts here, and it’s not really how I feel anymore. I’d like to rewrite it while emphasizing it’s OK to like problematic things. Other stuff is sort of dated, for example, my book Otaku Journalism has a poorly-named “Navigating Ethics and Bias” chapter, which features an Internet culture blogger. I wrote this book in early 2014, but in hindsight this is a VERY UNFORTUNATE juxtaposition. I’m sure that if you have an anime blog, you can probably also think of some posts and pieces that could use an update for 2016.
- Heck, it’s OK to delete stuff. Sometimes stuff isn’t salvageable. Earlier this year, I set more than 200 of my older posts to private because they get barely any traffic and I don’t feel like they represent my views anymore. (Don’t worry, there are still 500+ public posts on this blog, so you won’t run out of stuff to read!) I may revisit these old posts and clean them up like in the first tip, but for now they’re down, and it gives me peace of mind to know nobody is going to stumble on stuff I’m not 100% ready to share anymore. I don’t owe anyone to store my posts in an unchanging, museum-like archive. This is my blog and I can run it however I want.
- It’s not an excuse not to write. “Why begin writing now if I’m just going to hate it in two years?” is a really unhelpful train of thought. For one thing, if you don’t write now, you won’t have improved enough by the end of two years to see any difference. You’d stagnate, and worse, you wouldn’t be sharing your potentially great stuff with the world.
- Don’t let your inner (or outer) critics win. I put up a somewhat viral tweet defending an awesome feminist writer recently, and have gotten a bunch of crap on Twitter about it. The day that happened, I realized “I can’t write my Otaku Journalist post today.” I didn’t want to write a post while metaphorically looking over my shoulder, reading and re-reading each sentence as if I were my own enemy attempting to eviscerate it. Creation requires a measure of personal revelation and vulnerability—you can’t be creative when you have all your defenses up. Write from a neutral state of mind.
No piece of writing is ever finished because we as writers are never finished. As we continue to improve our skills and evolve and nuance our views, we will always be able to think of ways to edit and re-do our writing—if not now then eventually.
Don’t let your embarrassing past self stop you. The only smart option is to keep forging ahead.
Photo of Elliot in happier times.