Looking back, moving forward

Wednesday afternoons at my job are for meetings. Yesterday, during a break between meetings, I wandered the halls (all the computers were taken) to find a friend to play with. I ended up in the area I used to work, the Land of Cubicles. Now, when I worked there, we didn’t get our own schmancy individual cubes. Six of us shared one, which is an entire blog series, or novel, all on its own.

But I digress. (As usual.)

When I worked in the Cube, it was doing home-based therapy for teens in the juvenile justice system and their families in a program called Functional Family Therapy (FFT). Basically kids who had gotten in trouble to the point of court involvement, from petty theft to assault to serious gang involvement and everything in between. I did that for two years before moving on to work in the school-based program.

I got to reminiscing about those two years with some of the current therapists. The ups and downs, the hilarity and quirks of certain JCOs (Juvenile Court Officers). I have always said that even though I was soooo ready to move on (the hours were terrible and I drove out to the rural counties), it was probably one of the best experiences I could have had as a therapist just starting out.

Later, I was thinking about some of the clients I encountered in my years as an FFT therapist. They were a colorful bunch, to be sure. But those poor, poor folks, who were stuck with Baby Therapist Rena. I had no idea what I was doing half the time. Okay, probably more like 90% of the time. Sure, we had a manual we were supposed to follow, but for some reason people don’t always follow the manual guidelines, no matter how well the manual is written. I look back at some of the sessions I had, some of the things I said, and I just cringe.

But I shouldn’t. Baby Therapist Rena did the best she could with the knowledge she had. All the Greats start somewhere. I’m sure in 20 years if I’m still doing this therapy thing I will look back at Teenage Therapist Rena and giggle at how naive I am/she was. But I hope I’ll be proud of who I was, just like I’m proud of Baby Therapist Rena. She did some terrifying things. She had chutzpa. She went for it, and she was like a sponge, soaking in each new experience. I think that’s something Teenage Therapist Rena could probably learn from.

But, Rena, you say. This is all very interesting, but what does it have to do with writing?

I’m glad you asked.

When I look back at some of my first writings, I cringe at some of the things Baby Writer Rena did. She wrote in cliches. She used adverbs like they were paying her. She threw characters around willy-nilly, and probably used phrases like “willy-nilly” far too often. And that’s only the beginning.

There was a hashtag going around Twitter a few days ago called #1stMSConfessions. I was reading through, giggling and nodding. Yup, did that. Did that one too. Did that twice. What I loved about it was that writers were not only sharing, but EMBRACING the things they’d done first starting out. Sure, the things we did weren’t right, and maybe we roll our eyes at them now, but everyone starts somewhere. Everyone makes those mistakes. If not THOSE, then some other equally horrendous/entertaining ones. EVERYONE.

I remember Baby Writer Rena. She had the world at her fingertips. She was so excited to be writing a NOVEL. Giving voice to the characters in her head. Writing late into the night, not caring if the character had to have a poignant dream and wake up to look at herself in the mirror before starting at a new school where the best looking guy would clearly fall for her because it was FUN to write. No rules. No rejections yet. Just pure passion.

Teenage (Preteen?) Writer Rena is in the midst of some pretty major edits, and I’ve been thinking about Baby Writer Rena and pulling from her, letting her passion infect me again. I think we forget sometimes who we were, why we started writing, why we go through so much. And when we forget, we are in danger of becoming stagnant. Not soaking in, not learning, not growing. And I always want to grow. I hope when I’m 40 I can look at the book I’m working on now and appreciate it, while also being secure in the knowledge that what I’m writing at 40 is worlds better. I hope the same when I’m 50 looking back at what I write when I’m 40. And so on down the line until I’m just too old to write anymore (Heaven forbid!)

Be proud of what you’ve done, wherever you are in your journey. After all, the journey is what makes us the kind of writer/therapist/fill-in-the-blank that we are, and into which we’ll continue to grow.

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