5 Terrifyingly Awful Books I Might Have Written In My 20s

Bookshop ShelvesThere are very few writers who make it in their 20s. The few who do are endangered creatures; to be lauded, protected, and possibly locked up in a laboratory for serious scientific inquiry.

Many people believe that nobody should be writing about life until they’ve at least lived some. And indeed, many writers in their 20s encounter nothing but rejection, locked doors, and a tendency to gaze in the mirror a little too long as they wonder why the world doesn’t understand them.

However, a few others succeed. And I take my hat off to them (I am not feeling very well today, and am therefore wearing grotty clothing which does not bear description: however, I will say that there is inexplicable comfort in sometimes wearing a hat indoors), because I would never have been one of them.

Instead, I am one of those long-time scribblers who spent their single-digit years writing cutesy stories, their teens writing terrible poetry, and their 20s writing nothing. And I thank the powers that be for that. Because I have supreme confidence that anything I wrote in my 20s would have been a steaming pile of self-indulgent effluent. I found my 20s exhausting, quite frankly. And let me say that I have no desire to take that trip again.

With that in mind, here are 5 terrifyingly awful books I would have written in my 20s:

Embed from Getty Images

 1. The (Post-Colonial) Fan Fiction

The adage “write what you know” is often sadly too close for comfort – in the pain being close to pleasure stakes – to: “write a badly imitated collage of what you’ve been reading”. And I went through a massive binge of post-colonial fiction in my 20s, such as the 20th century literature coming out of places like Africa and the West Indies, along with some of the stuff written by the descendants of early 1900s emigrants. I shudder to think of what might have happened, should I have attempted to apply my own experience to it.

Ching-Hua Abubu was not a large man. But he was like Doctor Who’s Tardis; bigger on the inside, crammed as he was with the suffering of his people. He wept, but walked on.

2. The Thinly Disguised Travelogue

Many writers in their 20s are guilty of this, but it is is not their fault. It’s hard to separate yourself from your experiences, when every experience you’ve ever had is the most incredibly amazing experience ever.

Mary-Joe O’Skeffington trembled as she set her heavy suitcase down upon the clean, flush-cobbled street outside Berlin Train Station. She was tired from her going-away party, singing all the old songs well into the small hours of her German wake. She noticed a bus arriving at its stop, bang on time. This would never have happened at home in Ireland. She really was in a new world now.

3. The Spectacularly Unaware Exploration of Self-Awareness

You know what it’s like in your 20s, right? When you’re like, learning so much, you know? About yourself? For years? Until you realise that you might have been a hell of a lot better learning about, you know, other people?

Mary felt like she was slipping into a murky layer of herself; the deeper she went, the more distant she felt from her friend Patty’s worries about men, careers and money. Mary couldn’t understand why nobody understood how alone she felt; how much she thought about thinking. She felt like weeping, but instead reapplied her eyeliner and stormed the bar, downing 16 shots in the first hour and scoring with three of Patty’s ex-boyfriends.

4. The ‘Life You’d Rather Have’ Novel

Patty was confused; the letter offering her the position of CEO of the Internet was like hot coal in her hands. How on earth was she going to choose? She had to tell Brad and Angelina if she’d take up the offer to be their PA by Thursday, and there were two voicemails on her phone urging her to get back to the IRFU about that Masseuse to the Irish Men’s Rugby Team job.

Sam grasped her hand. ‘I know you’re under pressure right now, Patty,’ he said gently. ‘But you have to tell me. Did Phil, that obscenely rich bastard, ask you to marry him? Because you know he can’t give you what I could.’

Patty gasped. Life was so hard.

3 women reading books as envisaged by chick lit marketeer 5. The Unknowledgeable Novel

Yeah, we’ve all been there. You have a great idea for a novel. You know it. Everyone else is going to know it. Sure, you have some research to do, but it can’t be that hard, right? I mean, where does science fiction come from? And fiction is supposed to be made up, right?

Stanley stared down at the columns of numbers in front of him. Debit on the left, credit on the right. He didn’t hate being an accountant, but he wished his job was something more than just adding up numbers all day. His friend Dave had a much better job, being a lawyer, wearing his wig to court just to make ground-breaking speeches.

Suddenly, he thought of his girlfriend Kelly, a real East-Ender from London, who always said ‘wotcha’ and ‘a’wight?’ He didn’t know how to tell her he was going to the Middle East, to meditate for six months. Stanley couldn’t wait to see the Steppes and the Fjords of Mongolia.


And there you have it, folks. Can we all just take a moment to be thankful that I didn’t start writing in earnest until my 30s? …Thank you.

How about you? Is there anything you’re glad you haven’t written? Or – more juicily – is there anything you have written you wish you hadn’t (and might be willing to talk about)?

  44 comments for “5 Terrifyingly Awful Books I Might Have Written In My 20s

  1. scarlettparrish
    September 7, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    I wrote Twilight when I was 18. No, really. New girl in town, mysterious yet attractive guy who was a vampire. He even had a coven/family to which he introduced her. She got pregnant (not with a half-vampire demon baby; she was also dating my Jacob equivalent. Who wasn’t a werewolf) and it didn’t end well. And the lead was TOTALLY a Mary Sue of who I wish I was.

    I made all the classic mistakes. Telling-not-showing, clunky backstory, on-the-nose dialogue, embarrassingly conspicuous dialogue tags. My characters ejaculated and exclaimed all the live-long day.

    Thank goodness I became the literary genius like what I are today, like. Ahem.


    • September 7, 2014 at 6:00 pm

      Why oh why didn’t you sue?! I mean, she totally raided your brain. It’s like she read your miiiiind… oh wait – hang on…


  2. September 7, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    I think I was still guilty of three of those in my thirties… ;8^>


    • September 7, 2014 at 6:01 pm

      What I’m guilty of even today, Dave, will categorically not make it into any of these posts until I’m sure I’m cured!


  3. September 7, 2014 at 5:55 pm

    Reblogged this on Daleen Viljoen's Blog.


  4. Bailey Jackson
    September 7, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    I’m still in my 20s, so hopefully I can avoid these… maybe… But a piece of writing I’m ashamed of? Very bad Harry Potter fanficiton… It was a ton of fun at the time, and I think writing that much made me grow as a writer, but now I look back and cringe.


    • September 7, 2014 at 6:53 pm

      Hey, it’s all about the growth! Maybe if I had written stuff in my 20s I would have hit the ground running in my 30s. We’ll never know 😉


  5. September 7, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    OMG… I think I’m speechless practically. 😛

    Kidding of course – but I’m still not commenting ‘cos… well you know! lol


  6. September 7, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    5 books published in my 20s so far…no regrets yet…but that may be when I get to my 30s. I’ll worry about that if/when it happens 🙂

    Also broke the ‘rules’ of living a little before writing about my own life (though who defines that?) but only because I wanted to read a narrative that doesn’t seem too common. So I decided to write it.


    • September 7, 2014 at 6:55 pm

      Hey, no need to anticipate regret! Plus, this post is all about being grateful that I didn’t write in my 20s, not anybody else 😛


  7. annerallen
    September 7, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Brilliant and LOL funny. I’ve shared it on Twitter and FB. I think I started every single one of these books in my teens and twenties! I love your blog! I’ve blogged about a similar subject today: the biggest mistake newbie writers make. Stop on by. http://annerallen.blogspot.com.


    • September 7, 2014 at 6:56 pm

      Ah, that’s good to hear! Thank you Anne. Although newbie mistakes happen in every decade. Maybe if I’d made them in my 20s, I’d have published by now!


  8. September 7, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    I wrote total dreck as recently as last February and I’m 62. Of course, I took two of those Facebook polls, and one said I was 22 and the other said 25, so maybe that’s why. But after workshopping the stuff like crazy, I have now reached the stage of minimal dreck, and may actually publish before Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 7, 2014 at 7:14 pm

      It’s all about the right kind of self-awareness in this case, though – I think you’re on the right track! Keep us posted… your marathon sounds close to the finishing line…


  9. September 7, 2014 at 6:53 pm

    I did write in my 20s, and horrible doesn’t begin to cover it. I was of the “badly imitated collage of what you’ve been reading” school, only in my case, it was what I’d been watching. In the 1960s, James Bond had just hit, and Star Trek showed us that we could be the aliens in the UFO, and my spy and sci-fi stories would have curdled milk. I can only thank my lucky stars that I wasn’t thinking of publication then, so no one ever saw these epics except a few terribly put-upon friends… Now if only I could forget having done them!

    Thanks for this. Brought back some fun memories.


    • September 7, 2014 at 7:19 pm

      No need to forget or regret. Your silver lining is your learning curve… my silver lining has been transmogrified into a weird sort of smugness over having NOT done something 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  10. September 7, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    So if you didn’t write those in your twenties, why are people writing the same (and worse) in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s … More to the point, why are people reading and buying it? Aaagh. Don’t answer.


    • September 7, 2014 at 8:11 pm

      But I have to. I have no choice but to answer… see… I’m typing… and the answer is… [urk]

      Liked by 2 people

  11. September 7, 2014 at 7:33 pm

    Ha ha, ho ho, and hee hee. It’s all so true! I guess a genius comes along now and then who can actually write a competent novel at 22, but this isn’t like sports after all. I’m just thankful there wasn’t a handy way to self-publish when I was 22, or I’d have totally ruined my life…

    Thanks for the chuckles!


    • September 7, 2014 at 8:15 pm

      You’re welcome! and spot on with the sports analogy – what other discipline in the world allows you to be too young for something, long past double digits?! I’m with you on the self-publishing too. I wonder how much premature stuff we’re going to be seeing over the next few years once it becomes a ‘thing’.


  12. September 7, 2014 at 7:45 pm

    Delightful! And so glad I spent my early adult decades writing comedy instead of fiction. Otherwise I would now be laughing at my fiction, instead of myself 🙂


    • September 7, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      I think you can laugh at anything you like, Melodie, as long as you laugh at yourself. Although I am afraid that some day I’ll be sick of providing myself with material to laugh at 😉


  13. Nina Kaytel
    September 7, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    I am still in my 20s, and have noticed several of my peers enter into an enlightenment phase. I burned all m own writing notebooks not long ago, so I could start new. It is a strange age to be, you know yourself, but don’t. My writing is all over the place, a romance story, a fantasy, zombies, stories for my niece, poems. While my dream is to get published I am not trying to make-it-happen-now and be upset when it doesn’t. Instead, I am honing technical skills with every piece of writing.


    • September 7, 2014 at 10:01 pm

      That’s the way to get style! I do however want to emphasise to any and all 20-somethings out there, that this is about being grateful that I and I alone was not writing books in my 20s… I have no problems with anyone currently residing in that decade knocking themselves out with their literary genius 🙂


  14. September 8, 2014 at 1:32 am

    Reblogged this on theowlladyblog.


  15. September 8, 2014 at 2:55 am

    Teens – first major attempt at writing for publication. Got through the midway point in the book, and had a cast of hundreds. (Yeah, try writing THAT dialogue!) Then, killed them all with poison in a school for assassins. (Now, how on earth am I supposed to rescue the main characters from that? All 5 of them?)

    Twenties – second attempt at writing for publication. Political something or other. Got about half way through the opening description, and realized it wasn’t going any where. Not even the burn pile. (Topaz sands, aquamarine and sapphire ocean, emerald valleys, the works! Wish I could have mounted it in gold. Then at least it might have been good for SOMETHING!)

    Late twenties – transmuted the writing impulse into online role play. got to write as much as I wanted, make things as cheesy as I pleased (or not), and got to build up many of the right muscles necessary to actually put together a good book.

    Now? I debate if I’ve done good or not. Only time will tell… But, I press on, and hope real life leaves me the occasional minute or thirty to work on continuing the experiment.


    • September 8, 2014 at 9:48 am

      “Building up the right muscles”… I love it! Looking forward to the day when we can say we’re ‘literally fit’

      Liked by 1 person

  16. September 9, 2014 at 5:01 pm

    Wonderful, incredibly funny and totally recognisable. Childhood and teens ditto. The poetry from this period is appalling. Luckily, although I joined groups and read and discussed everyone else’s, I kept mine under wraps (except for one anon in a school mag). Twenties ditto (and exhausting) except for a strange art college thesis on love/sex in the early Christian era (!). What I am writing now, decades later, is bad enough, thank god I never attempted anything earlier.


    • September 10, 2014 at 1:15 pm

      Thank you, Hilary! All theses are allowed, of course. No matter what you might think of it now, if the college approved of it at the time, the blame is 100% on them 😉


  17. September 15, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    I wanted to write like Ernest Hemingway when I was in my teens. Or possibly John Steinbeck, but I was hampered by the fact that I lived on a housing estate in Cheshire and I didn’t know any flamenco dancers, matadors, or displaced farmers. In my 20s I did write a travelogue, but half way through I began having a steamy affair and I kind of lost interest in writing. I think about writing it now, but it would be just like Adrian Mole on steroids. Nobody on earth would believe it.


    • September 15, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      You were far more highbrow than I ever was. When I was a teenager, I wanted to write like Judy Blume, or Danielle Steele. But only for 5 minutes. The rest of the time, I just wanted the guy in the band to notice me 😉

      You have me seriously intrigued, now, by this steamy affair. Am I right in thinking you might have referred to it once before? You know that if you don’t tell us the story, we will be forced to read the Daily Mail for entertainment??


      • September 15, 2014 at 5:58 pm

        Did I? Oh God.


        • September 15, 2014 at 6:29 pm

          I think you did. But maybe you didn’t. Anyway, gotcha thinking, right?


          • September 15, 2014 at 6:52 pm

            Oh dear. Which takes me to the last category…tedious memoir


  18. May 19, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    I read it as ‘few writers make it to their 20s’ and figured I was living on borrowed time. Hmm. Middle-aged author has mid-life crisis, angsts about growing old, buys fast car, picks up younger woman who adores him but cries all the time over John Green novels, ponders unbridgeable gulf between millenials and children of the 70s, reaches epiphany, drives cement mixer through Dail.

    Liked by 1 person

    • May 19, 2016 at 10:49 pm

      Your reading of the post probably would make a better post, Nige. And your story is so much better than “middle-aged author makes embarrassing mistakes in their youth nobody ever knows about, trundles onward, talking about things they might have done but didn’t”. You get bonus points for putting John Green in the same sentence as a cement mixer.


  19. May 20, 2016 at 1:41 pm

    The post was hilarious, but maybe you’re right about the world having a lucky escape when you were in your twenties. I do feel a bit sad about your never finishing the third book, though. I roared when I read the excerpt. Had all the makings of a classic. Pity…

    Liked by 1 person

    • May 20, 2016 at 2:51 pm

      Well, if you insist, Bun. I’ll have trouble editing it down to words of less than five syllables, but if you’re so sure it’ll be a hit, I’ll thesaurus the bejeebus out of it and have it done by the end of the day.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: