Why Do We Cringe When Reading Old Work?

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This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Quite often I come across writers who read their early work and cringe, in a big way. The language, their skills at plotting, their characterization – all become apparent as woefully underdeveloped. And so the writers hang their head in shame, wondering why they wrote this and published it. Even if it garnered some readership, why did they even think it was good?

Over at Medium, Tom Farr talks about finding it painful to read through a serialized story he had written two years prior. He acknowledges that completing the story was a high point, and it also gave him confidence.

Several writing forums discuss this topic and the advice remains consistent – desensitize yourself when reading old stuff, and be proud of the progress you have made. However, if you are starting new work, best not to read old work

Over at The Verge, a discussion of the psychology and social science of cringe theory offers some insights.

After absorbing all this, here’s my question:

Why cringe when reading old work?

Rather than suffering through it and feeling embarrassed, we should perhaps pride ourselves both on our skills at that point in life, and also take pride in how far we’ve come. Clearly our skills must have improved with regular practice. If nothing else, we can surely excuse ourselves for being a little green around the years. Novice mistakes are expected, and one would never learn if they didn’t write, publish, practice and repeat.

I too read over my early published stories every so often, and I almost never come away thinking it’s perfect, or even remotely satisfied with it. The itch to rewrite or correct large swathes of it strikes me even now, but I have to accept that what’s done is done. Hindsight is great, but its best not to beat up oneself about it. As long as you’re practicing and learning from your mistakes (I hope I am!), things should work out fine.

What is your opinion on this? Do you read the old stories on your hard drive and cringe? Does a previous publication of yours cause you grief when you re-read it?


  1. Totally agree, great post! Although I do have another argument to share.

    The reason that we cringe on our old posts is not only because we have grown as a writer in our life, but also how we feel towards stuff differently in our different phases of life. Something that was once cool is now just noise. Doesn’t mean it wasnt cool, just at this age I don’t find it cooler anymore.

    Thanks for including great links too and great read. 🙂


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