This is a good write-up by author Autumn Christian as to the changing nature of one’s writing as it relates to the changing being of one’s person, “I’ve Changed and So Has My Writing” by Autumn Christian.
Along those lines, of note, sometime ago I watched a documentary about author J.D. Salinger, author of “The Catcher in the Rye.” Salinger had already been in seclusion for some years when this young man, a budding writer, filled with the romanticism of his youthfulness, whom, having traveled across the country, tracked Salinger down at his home. Salinger met the young man at the end of the driveway to his home and at first, wasn’t completely un-personable, only cautious, suspicious. The young man then began to go on about Holden Caulfield. Salinger yelled at him, used an expletive or two, told him that he wasn’t Holden Caulfield, it was just a story. Salinger then turned away from the young man, retreating to the solitude of his self-imposed seclusion.
Some twenty plus years ago now, a young man who had stolen some of my poems some years before that, presented them to me, saying they were his own. At first, I didn’t recognize them though they seemed strangely familiar. There was one, however, really quite bad, that struck me immediately as being the product of my teenage angst as I recalled what it was that had prompted me to write it, a Peter Gabriel song. Circumstances were such that I thought it the wiser option to not confront this individual, and so I did not, choosing instead to let whatever else was contained in those pages go. The point of this anecdote being, now, that I did not immediately recognize my own words, my own work.
I can’t speak for other writers with regard to how prolific they are or aren’t. I’ve been writing all my life at this point, having shredded or burned as much writing as I’ve kept, at least, and who knows what all else was ever anywhere when in my youth my ideas about the world, my romanticism about being a writer, sent thousands of pages flooding through the mail, or left file boxes overflowing with prose sitting in some corner somewhere. I’ve written hundreds of thousands of pages, maybe millions of pages. I certainly don’t remember every word of it, and wouldn’t want to. While some pieces become sentimental or retain meaning, writers “release” their work, their words. I just told someone the other day, “I’m writing to get rid of it” in some regard. We move on, because stagnation is death. It’s a wonderful thing when something you’ve written speaks to someone, resonates with them, that’s part of the point, but J.D. Salinger was never the fictional character that he created, Holden Caulfield. And, even if he was, it was only in that time of the writing of it. (This is where I demonstrate how I’ve learned not to waste a lot of time trying to explain being a writer, what is to be one, etc.)
Writers, most writers, I think, are changing, growing, learning, as people, and that changes the writing, or should, in every way. People remember us from whenever they knew us, or thought they did, and even then it is through their perception of us which is only that. I’m not sixteen and still filled with naive, overly-romantic, longings and pining about the world in general. I’m not in my twenties, or thirties, or any of the things, stages, changes, phases, that went with those times, and I’m about to be done with my forties. I sometimes, though less and less, miss the physicality of my nineteen year old self, I sometimes wish I’d spent more time playing cars with my son when he was little, but other than that, I don’t sit around lamenting the previous decades of my life or longing to relive them. I’m glad of where I’m at in my life now. I fought hard to get here. (I’m also not going to get into, at the moment, how I feel about being middle-aged, this time of my life, or whatever else, etc., etc., etc., because hopefully I’ve learned not to blather all that away.) How wrong is it of anyone to expect me, or anyone, to relinquish the present moments of my life, my learning and experience, to suit whatever their “stuff” is? Think about that.
There are a few writers whose work I truly love, things they’ve written that I completely cherish. But, because I really truly love their work, I’m wanting to read what they’re going to write next. I certainly wouldn’t expect, or want, them to become stagnant or to cease to grow as writers, or human beings, in order to suit my expectations. I wouldn’t want to begin to take apart everything that’s wrong with and about that idea. There were some important lessons in that Salinger story, not only as a writer, but as a reader. It’s one I remind myself of often. If other people become stuck in their perception of you, you cannot take that on yourself. To that end, perhaps ironically, a recurrent theme in my writing is transformation and transcendence. Butterflies, werewolves, etc., metaphors for becoming, for transforming. Perhaps some people don’t change, and as to whether that is “good” or “bad” is neither here nor there. But, I do certainly know, I have changed.
Keep moving forward. Just do you. Don’t go trippin’ on spiderwebs.