Yesterday I started reading Orlando by Virginia Woolf, and I came across the following passage:
Anyone moderately familiar with the rigours of composition will not need to be told the story in detail; how he wrote and it seemed good; read and it seemed vile; corrected and tore up; cut out; put in; was in ecstasy; in despair; had his good nights and bad mornings; snatched at ideas and lost them; saw his book plain before him and it vanished; acted his people’s parts as he ate; mouthed them as he walked; now cried; now laughed; vacillated between this style and that; now preferred the heroic and pompous; next the plain and simple; now the vales of Tempe; then the fields of Kent or Cornwall; and could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.
It describes my feelings while writing and about writing perfectly (for some reason Woolf always seems to know what I’m feeling even before I’m even fully conscious of it and manages to state it in such beautiful terms). Sometimes after writing something that I really like, I’ll feel as though I’m “the divinest genius… in the world” and then when I go back to read it a month or so later, it seems so ridiculous that I once thought so highly of it; I know myself for the “greatest fool” I am, and writing turns into this constant ricochetting between joy and hopelessness. Considering this, does there ever come a point where you’re able to look at your own work and say that you’ve finally crossed some threshold of success/acceptance of self/admission of talent? I guess in a way being critical of one’s own work can be a positive thing, but I think the problem is with being overly critical.
I’m curious to know how anyone else feels about the process of writing and how you’ve felt revisiting your old writing.