As writers, we all have projects we decide to leave behind or put on the backburner. Sometimes an idea is just not quite there, or we’ve lost momentum or motivation to keep working on it. This time, last decade, I was in my first year of secondary school. I had moved from a small village primary school to a building with a thousand students. It was overwhelming, but it was a creative renaissance for me. I was in a new place, brimming with ideas but I was too scatter-brained to stick to just one project. Although what I wrote had some potential, my pieces were mostly terrible and a bit cringeworthy. There were a whole host of unsuccessful experiments and bad poetry, but the projects I’ll be talking about were ones that I genuinely thought would be successful and an integral part of my writing identity.
I’m someone who hates waste and can be a bit of a hoarder. I struggle to let sentimental objects go, and there’s nothing more sentimental to me than some of my ideas. There’s always the mentality that I may use something again one day, even though I probably won’t. Some of these ideas have been with me since I was a budding writer, when I was just starting to write poetry and scripts. Being such a hoarder, it’s only natural that it’ll pain me to let go of some of these.
I wrote a lot of ‘comedy’ between the ages of 11-13, that in hindsight wasn’t all that funny.
This included: two ‘feature’ films that spoofed Doug McClure films from the 60’s and some obscure children’s films I saw over the years. I wrote the full scripts to those at the start of secondary school, which I had fun writing and I might talk about in more detail in the future. During that time, I watched a lot of comedy with my mum and brother. We would watch shows like Father Ted, That Peter Kay Thing, Still Game and Star Stories. They were easy to digest, especially when I was often too exhausted after a day of school to talk to them much. Toast, tea and boxsets were a huge part of how I bonded with them, so it’s only natural that I wanted to write more of what brought me joy and comfort. The plots had virtually no structure and moved from spoof scene to spoof scene a la Epic Movie or Disaster Movie. There were too many characters that didn’t add anything to the story. Not to mention that once terrible musical number that borrowed its structure from Guns and Roses. These scripts will thankfully never see the light of day, but they did teach me in hindsight that a big part of being funny is being able to appeal to your audience. There’s media where its appeal is to be surreal and ridiculous, which is what those scripts were aiming for but don’t achieve. Your audience need to understand the joke you’re trying to make. So, in the Indiana Jones’ warehouse they will stay.
Speaking of embarrassing things I wrote as a teenager, I wrote a lot of very mortifying song lyrics.
They were mostly love songs to process feelings that I found intense and hard to deal with. Honestly, I am of the belief that there is a lame love song in every teenager regardless of musical or lyrical talent. I wrote hundreds of them over a five-year period. And I mean hundreds. Statistically there are some that have potential, but that’s really a product of quantity rather than quality. I’ve always been someone who is prone to intense feelings, and usually went hand in hand with intense relationships.
These songs were a way for me to process these feelings and come to terms with my bisexuality. I fancied myself a bit of a musician, having played cello since I was 8 years old. Those lessons were real bright spots in my difficult time in school. I was sadly too scatter-brained and disorganized to practice that much, so I didn’t develop the musical chops to write accompaniment for myself. So I won’t be keeping most of the lyrics I have written from my lovestruck teenager past. It was a surreal experience sorting through them all and looking back on the person I was before but it’s safe to say that there was a lot of paper put in the recycling bin that night.
I have had plenty of ideas for novels, too, but I never finished any of them.
Considering I struggled horribly with structure and sequencing, most of my ideas were never realised. I knew most of my characters pretty well and what happened to them, but most of their stories were closer to character’s anecdotes than a fixed narrative. These were mostly young adult fiction, or middle grade books inspired by authors like Jacqueline Wilson and teen films.
One novel series was centred around my protagonist Rose Parker, who started off as a defiant Tracy Beaker-type and became shyer and more mild-mannered. She had great friends and chosen family, even as she lived in a children’s home. And I’m content with them staying in my head. These characters were like friends to me. Through them, I had a group of friends that all connected and understood each other. Although I had some good friends who were a lot of fun, I struggled to connect with my peers the same way, and I felt strangely isolated. They weren’t ‘imaginary friends’ in the typical sense, I would be more characterising these people and then picture the interactions they had. If I were their friend, I was the quiet one who never joined the conversation and simply blogged all the funny or interesting stuff they said. They have lived in a semi-realistic world inside my head for over a decade, and they’re happy there as they are. I’m best leaving them to it.
Short stories and flash fictions only came into my radar when I was writing them for assignments in secondary school.
In hindsight, most of the ‘novels’ I wrote last decade were only the size of short stories. Most of them I don’t hold all that much sentimentality for, and the ones that I do stand by have either been published already or will be redrafted for a future short story collection.
One short story in particular that brings back bad memories was one I submitted for proofreading for my Advanced Higher English in my final year in school. I thought it was great at the time. I wanted to capture the emotions of a lonely woman in her early 20s before an awful one-night stand, and I fell flat on my face. I couldn’t pull off a narrative voice who was older than me. She was a weak, watery woman whose struggles you couldn’t really sympathise with. Safe to say, it wasn’t appropriate to submit it to examiners and I’m glad that my English teacher talked me into writing a personal piece instead. If you’re reading this, I can only apologise that you had to set eyes on it.
I’d also like to take the time to talk briefly about the Iron Man story I wrote with my first online writing collaboration when I was nineteen.
I wrote about this experience in more detail in a previous blog post, but in short: there was one month where, in a bizarre turn of events, I was asked to write superhero fanfiction despite the fact that the website wasn’t dedicated to superhero fanfiction, because the editor didn’t trust us to write our own, original superheroes. My story was set in an alternate Mongolia, where Tony Stark’s half-brother Arno fills a power vacuum left behind when they defeat The Mandarin. This was leading off of an actual plotline in the comics, at least according to Wikipedia. This year, I thought about turning it into an original science fiction story. When done poorly, this is a practice known as ‘filing off the serial numbers.’ Plenty of successful writers have managed to turn their fanfictions into fully realized and captivating original worlds and characters, but I don’t think my story is one of those. The story is so entrenched in that universe that, regardless of how vigorously I filed, it would be plainly obvious where my ideas came from. Not only that, but its messages and symbolism are far too on the nose, even if I left it as a fanfiction with serial numbers in tact. Besides, it’s not a project I’m passionate about enough to keep working on.
As with all writers, everything you write as a teenager is embarrassing and bad. Most things you do as a teenager are embarrassing in hindsight. But they are a learning experience, and through the mistakes you make then, you can become a better.
It surprised me how much I have grown and changed even within the three years I’ve been at university, let alone over the course of a decade. I know a lot of people have struggled through their teenage years for a myriad of reasons, and I am no exception. But my writing (and my music) is what got me through those years, and hopefully I have come out of them a better person.
Jen Hughes is a writer and poet from Ayrshire who has been passionate about writing since she could hold a pencil. She is in her final year of her English Literature and Film & TV Studies degree at University of Glasgow. She has been performing her work for four years and has been co-hosting open mic night, Words and Music, with Gayle Smith for two years. Her fiction and poetry have been published in various magazines and anthologies including Acumen, Poetry in the Time of Coronavirus (PITTOC) Volumes 1& 2, Adjacent Pineapple and more.
Her debut chapbook, “Keep on Spinning” has been published by Dreich Publishing. It is available to buy on her website through jenhugheswriter.com/shop.
If you enjoy her work, you can find more on her website jenhugheswriter.com. Or you can follow her Facebook (Jen Hughes Writing) or Instagram (@jenhugheswriting)