I don’t hang out with other writers much, because I hate talking about writing. Discussions about craft tend to get pretentious, quick, and discussions about the business side make me squirrelly, because I was raised to never speak of money, for some reason. I think my parents were in dire financial straits for a long time—like, lose the house straits—and never once mentioned any of it to my brother and I. The only reason I even suspect this today is a few stray comments made by my mother in her later years. As a result, I prefer to pretend that I am a Gentleman Writer who publishes solely for the acclaim and the glamor, never the money.

There are some exceptions, mainly with writers who like to drink whiskey as much as I do. Whiskey is the social lubrication of the gods, after all. When I do get together with fellow writers and talk a bit about our work, there’s one thing I can count on: We all hate our old books.

Past Me is a Hack

It’s unsettling when you pull out a manuscript you wrote a few years ago and thought fondly of, a novel you thought might be revised and massaged into something great, and discover that Present You now hates it, and wonders what drugs Past You was on when he wrote it. I used to assume this had something to do with my growing vision and talent as a writer—older books were terrible because I had gotten so much better at it, just like I no longer think The Dukes of Hazzard is a good TV show because my taste in television has gotten more sophisticated.

Now, though, I realize that’s not quite it. Past Jeff is not the same person as Present Jeff, just as I will not be the same as Future Jeff. That stranger wrote a book, and incorporated all these weird ideas, and none of it is the way I would do it. So I hate it. I will always hate my older books, no matter how old they are, precisely, and no matter how well they are received or how well they continue to sell. They were written by a weirdo with my name, a man I don’t know any more.

This is probably why time travel never seems to happen. People invent it, travel back to see themselves, and end up murdering themselves and the universe reboots.

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