On my way to a bookstore yesterday, I walked by a furniture store and decided to take a look inside. The pieces it housed were almost all rustic, old, and handmade – furniture with a soul. Running my fingers along the intricate yet imperfect carvings of some of the works reminded me of just how much value we place on work that wasn’t made in a factory, especially if its aged. The imperfections lend a uniqueness that adds to the appeal.
The same love people have for their early attempts at crafting doesn’t seem to extend to their writing. Essays, once graded, get tossed in the trash and deleted from computers without a moment’s hesitation. While paper can pile up over time, there’s not need to delete computer files to make room on hard drives now that hard drives are standardly made with hundreds of gigabytes.
It took me years to realize the worth of my old writing and it wasn’t until graduate school that I started saving every essay I wrote. I did manage to find several undergraduate papers and even a few high school papers I’d stashed away and forgotten about and those are now some of my most prized possessions.
Revisiting your old writing is like opening up an old photo album and seeing pictures of yourself as you were in your youth. Your psychological state was frozen in that essay and you can see just how much you’ve grown as a writer and matured in your thinking by rereading it. When I reread essays, I’m overwhelmed by a sense of nostalgia. I see more than just the words on that paper; I’m taken back to my memories about writing the paper itself: the time I spent struggling to find research in the computer lab at school, the queso and chips I ate with friends during breaks who were also working on their own essays, my exact thoughts as I chose certain turns of phrase over others, and my feelings of disappointment or success as I turned my final draft in and waited for the grade. As juvenile as some of my essays seem to me now, I still feel pride at my accomplishment.
Apart from the immense sentimental value of essays, there are plenty of uses for them years down the line. They’re a wonderful way of connecting with your own children or nieces and nephews as they struggle to write essays in school. Even if you don’t plan on having children, there may come a time in your life when you will be mentoring a person (even an adult!) who will need to see examples of written work to understand how to put their own words down on paper.
If you plan on entering the teaching profession, it’s a given that you’ll want to save your old papers to use as models for your own students. Even if you don’t ever foresee yourself teaching, keep in mind that the job market is particularly rough now and you may end up standing in front of the classroom after all.
Most of all, old essays are like family heirlooms – they’re precious ways for the people you love to remember you. I know my own parents treated every essay I ever wrote as though it could win a Pulitzer Prize, no matter how quickly I’d written it the night before its due date. Who knows? You may just become famous one day and those old pieces of paper will be worth more than you could have ever imagined. Or you may decide to write an autobiography and include them, or use excerpts from your 13 year old self’s writing when you write a young adult novel. The possibilities are limitless when it comes to repurposing old writing.
Time passes so quickly when you get older; put that paper in a shoebox or binder and shove it into the back of your closet. Before you know it, you’ll be blowing 5 years worth of dust off the next time you clean out your wardrobe. If space is an issue, digitize. It takes no room at all, but make sure you bring your files along with you as the times change as I used floppy disks in high school and, unlike some gaming consoles, computers aren’t always backwards compatible.
Just like people get lucky on Antiques Roadshow, you may just end up desperately needing something you wrote long ago as a reference for a current project.
Photo source: Atalou