• A Modest Proposal to Write Better When You Think You’ve Written Your Best

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Inspiration     Comments 2 comments

    Recently I was trying to think back to a story I wrote in high school that I was particularly proud of. High school is, after all, where I really began to develop more of a passion for writing. My mother, who is (of course) my biggest fan as a writer but whose forgetfulness is often as bad as my own, asked me, “Hey, remember that one story you wrote back in high school, that real funny one?” Ah, yes. That one.

    Strangely enough, I’m pretty sure I know what she was talking about. For a class, we had to read Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal and then write our own satire emulating his style. For those of you who are unfamiliar, A Modest Proposal is basically a satirical look at poverty during the 1700’s in which Swift suggests poor people sell their children as food to make money. With that in mind, I wrote something along the lines of there being an “epidemic of homelessness” and that the government should send all homeless people to one of our more useless states—in this case, I chose Oregon. Keep in mind, this was satire. At the time, I thought it was pretty clever.

    Isn’t it funny how the things we used to be so proud of often seem absolutely horrific to us now? Before I continue, I would like to extend my deepest apologies to the state of Oregon. You aren’t useless. You guys had the Oregon Trail game, and that made me one happy and occupied 5th grader.

    All this is to say that when we look back at the writing we’ve done, it is actually a good sign when we shudder with disgust. It means that we are growing as writers—we are more adept at recognizing poor writing and, hopefully, writing much better. I can barely read anything I’ve ever written, even way beyond high school, without focusing almost solely on how much better it could have been. How I didn’t use the right word in a certain place or how a certain character could have been more developed.

    That is not to say you should never be proud of your work. You’ve done it, it’s yours, and I bet it was fantastic. You just can’t stop there.  There is always room for improvement.

    And who knows, maybe you’ll write the next “modest proposal.” I’m sure it will be better than my 10th grade version.


    Anyone else have trouble digesting writing from your past? Let us know below.


    Aundraya Ruse recently moved to the Austin area after graduating with a B.A. in English (creative writing focus) from Texas Tech University. Catch her on Twitter here.

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    David Duhr

    Nice call on the Oregon Trail. (Although you’re significantly younger than I, so your version probably looked nothing like mine.) I look back at the writing from my youth with fondness. What I don’t look at with fondness? The stuff I’ve published. Most of my book reviews, for example. I’m capable of realizing that they’re technically sound, but so many of them have so damn little to say. That, or I no longer agree with what they have to say. So I guess it’s not really the writing itself I look back on with distaste, but rather some of the… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    Agreed. My ideas feel brilliant when they’re locked in my computer. When they’re out there in the world, not so much.

    There is one article in particular in a now defunct publication which shall remain nameless that humiliates me. There is also one short story–my first ever published–that I refuse to discuss, like how Tom Hanks refuses to discuss “Joe Versus the Volcano,” except I am right and Tom Hanks is wrong. Story of my life.

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