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When Writers Forget What They Wrote

February 15, 2014
When you write a lot of stuff, it's difficult to remember everything you wrote. (image via Wikimedia)

When you write a lot of stuff, it’s difficult to remember everything you wrote. (image via Wikimedia)

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and my memory is getting worse.  Maybe it’s because I’ve kept a lot of stuff that I wrote from a long time ago.  Maybe it’s because I’m writing more now than I used to. But every once in a while I find something that I forgot I wrote.

Sometimes when I discover something I forgot I wrote, I think excitedly, “Oh yeah, I remember this!”  Sometimes, I flinch and think, “Yecchh, I remember this!”

A few days ago I stumbled upon a recent post that I don’t remember writing on Dysfunctional Literacy.  When I read it, it was like reading it for the first time.  I didn’t say “Yay!” or “Yecchhh!”  It was like the writing wasn’t mine.

I don’t think the quality of writing affects my memory of what I wrote.  I’ve written some real stinkers for Dysfunctional Literacy, especially in my first year of blogging, and I remember those just fine.  This post that I forgot was just bland, I guess.  The post was about an open letter.  I think open letters are usually a waste of time, but this open letter was incredibly bland, which was too bad because it was signed by a bunch of famous authors (most of whom I’d never heard of).  I thought if a bunch of authors were going to sign an open letter, maybe one of them should have written something in that letter to make it interesting.  The open letter was bland.  I guess my post about the open letter was bland too because I forgot I wrote about it.

A few years ago, I found some stuff that I wrote in college, a bunch of spirals and folders from the 1980s crammed into a milk crate.  I remembered the short stories from a fiction class, but I have no clue about a literary analysis essay I wrote about a poet.  The composition had my handwriting on it, but I don’t remember reading the poetry or writing the paper.  Since I found the college stuff and have since misplaced it, I don’t even remember who the poet was anymore, which is surprising because according to my essay, he left quite an impression on me.

In high school I wrote a story called “Long Story.”  I remembered this story very well because of how it met its end.  I even wrote a serial about the story and what happened to it (called “Long Story”) for Dysfunctional Literacy.  At the time (last year), it was pretty long for a blog story, but since then I’ve written (or am still currently writing) “The Literary Girlfriend,” which is now even longer than “Long Story.”  At any rate, I rewrote “Long Story” for the blog and tried to recreate it as much as possible, with fewer punctuation errors.  I remembered this story I wrote in high school more than I remembered the essay I wrote in college or the blog post I wrote a few months ago.

Sometimes I forget about stuff I haven’t even written yet.  I started a Twitter account a couple months ago, and I keep forgetting to use it.  I’ve written maybe 20 tweets, and I kind of remember them, even though none of the tweets are memorable.  Some Twitter users have sent out over 100,000 tweets.  If you write over 100,000 tweets, I’m pretty sure you’re going to forget some of them.  I bet most of those tweets are pretty forgettable anyway.  I’d worry about a person who wrote over 100,000 tweets and then could remember every single one of them.

I wonder if James Patterson remembers every single book he wrote.  I’m not convinced James Patterson writes all the books that his name is on.  A lot of his books are co-authored, and I don’t know how much time/effort he puts into his co-authored books anyway.  Does James Patterson remember which books he actually wrote and which ones he didn’t?  If James Patterson forgets about a book that he didn’t write but his name is on, did he really forget it?  Can James Patterson list all of the books his name is on without a cheat sheet?  You know an author has written too many books when you have to use mnemonic devices to recall all of them.  When James Patterson dies, can his co-authors still put his name on their books?

I’m a little concerned that I don’t remember everything I’ve written.  I’d understand it if other people forgot what I wrote.  Our lives are busy, there’s a lot of stuff for our brains to juggle, so it make sense that readers would forget what they read after they read it.  I forget a lot of stuff that I read.  I probably save a lot of money by forgetting what I’ve read because I can reread old books instead of buying expensive new ones.  But maybe I shouldn’t forget the stuff that I’ve written.

Am I the only person this has happened to?  Have you ever completely forgotten about stuff that you’ve written?

28 Comments
  1. I forget it as soon as I post it LOL I do remember the longer stuff though.

  2. I know I have. I wrote sketch comedy a few years ago with several of my friends, and we wrote the skit which we recorded as “Taxi driver in Dusseldorf – do not forget!”. To this day, none of us has been able to remember the skit, not me, not them. And especially not James Patterson.

    • You shouldn’t have said that you don’t remember “Taxi Driver in Dusseldorf.” If James Patterson publishes it now, he might not put your name on the cover. The co-authors’ names are usually in small print, but still…

      • I’d be delighted if James Patterson published Taxi Driver In Dusseldorf without giving me any credit, because at least then I’d know what that was all about.

  3. knowledgeaddiction permalink

    It’s the same thing with music. I always forget tabs, so I have to review them from time to time. I can’t tell you much about writing because I haven’t been doing it for too long. I’ve just discovered this passion.

  4. I stick mostly to fiction these days, but I’ve got a desk crammed full of drafts from college, mostly poetry. When one needs a heaping dose of humility, nothing is more effective than a decade old poem.

    • You’re right, old writing can be humbling. I’m sure the only reason I was fond of my high school story was because it was destroyed at school, and I rewrote it as an adult. If I had kept it, maybe I would have been embarrassed by it. If anybody had destroyed your old poems, you might remember them fondly.

      • As a longtime writer/upstart blogger, already looking at the first few posts with a “surely I’ll get better at this” sort of eye, it is indescribably encouraging to hear this from a salted veteran like yourself.

  5. I felt like that reading my bound copy of both my BSc and MA dissertations. During writing them both, I was too absorbed in the process to actually digest what I was saying. I think in those instances writing can become mechanical. I remember reading through it thinking ‘where did that come from?’ or ‘did I really write that?’ I was aware that I had actually written the words but felt a disconnect to the actual meaning. It was a surreal experience.

    I think you’re doing pretty well though if you can remember a story you wrote in high school….

    • The high school story probably wasn’t that good. I remember it because there was a story behind the story, and those are usually the best kinds of stories. Ugh… dissertations.

  6. I can’t even understand some of the things I’ve written! I did AS level French and had to write a lot of essays as part of the course. Sorting out my computer a couple of years later, I came across essays with my name on, but had no idea what they were on about….

    • That’s funny, if you can’t understand what you wrote. I’ve confused myself with mangled sentences before, but it was all in English, so I kind of knew what I meant… eventually. I’ve never written anything in another language.

  7. There are things I have written that I would rather forget;)

  8. I’ve definitely found some things hidden away on my computer with obscure titles where I’ll be like…. REALLY, Aussa?! Most of these are embarrassing and I need some sort of fail safe that will make my computer explode when my heart stops beating.

    • Oh yeah! That’d be super 🙂 when you find out where I can download one, reckon you could let me know? 😉 There’d have to be an extension too though, one that also blows up the rest of my personal paperwork – diaries, letters, stories, etcetcetc

  9. Therin Knite permalink

    I’ve found manuscripts on my computer and flash drives I don’t remember writing at all. If I think about them hard enough, I vaguely remember the story ideas, but I had completely forgotten I wrote them down. It happens. I just have too much crap in my head, you know? The less important things end up pushed to the back of my head. It is kind of amusing though, rereading something you barely remember having written at all and trying to figure out where you were going with it.

  10. I’m having a hard time remembering what I’m writing right now, because all I can focus on are these enormous BOOBS you have bursting out of a white tee shirt to the upper right of me.

    Jimmy, you’re adorable. What am I going to do with you?

    • I might have forgotten some stuff that I wrote, but the BOOBS post? I remember that one. It’s not very good (it was one of my early posts from the first six months of Dysfunctional Literacy), but I remember it.

      • With a post image like that, the writing is completely besides the point.

        I like BOOBS too, Jimmy Norman.

  11. Jessica permalink

    I forget stuff I write all the time, but sometimes when I write a poem that I am really proud of, I write it in a journal and tuck it away. Then usually I forget about it and I go back to that journal for inspiration. This journal is what always helps me find my voice or strike creativity when I’m brain dead.

  12. I do it so often, editing is a breeze because it’s like reading someone else’s work. I’ve always had a poor memory, so I’m never surprised when it happens again, though, ha!

  13. I’ve got one of those 80s milk crates. I’m not sure if it’s more painful to have remembered it or forgotten about it. I also have this fear that I continue to give people the same birthday wishes every year because I can’t remember what I said to them last year. If they catch me, I’m going to say, “It’s my signature greeting for you because it’s so true.” (Shh, don’t tell anyone.)

  14. For my high school graduation open house I used laminated samples of my writing from when I was younger as centerpieces/entertainment. I had forgotten about a lot of those but the guests got a kick out of them.

  15. I like rereading novels I’ve written and rediscovering some of the details since I forget the little things. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some stories I’ve written on this blog, or at least I can’t recall of them all at the moment.

  16. The only way I’ve found to remember ANYTHING I wrote is to re-read it. Everything I have ever written in in one neat little (that’s an understatement) folder on my computer. Unfortunately my biggest problem is remembering what I’ve written while writing a book. I’ve found that my poor characters end up with impressive multiple personality disorders that any shrink would LOVE to get their hands on. They also tend to change hair color a lot. ….. 🙂

  17. annmarierosellikissack permalink

    Reblogged this on anntogether and commented:
    Yes, and I can’t blame it all on age so I tell my children they caused my grey matter to leak. But it is great fun discovering writing pieces you can’t remember penning. It’s like sipping tea with a weird friend.

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