As the saying goes, "All writers should be readers." In short, it means all writers should be consuming the written word in its many different forms, examining different styles, and constantly being surprised by just what is being created in the writing community. I took on this task and read some old essays as a mission to examine style and writing. It turns out, they weren't written very well at all. Sometimes the subject dragged, the verbs were weak, the style inconsistent. At times this was a real painful process to read these pieces. I made it through them, and spent some time processing all the horror of this mediocre writing.
The worst part, of course, was that these were things I wrote twenty years ago.
So, the question has probably come up in your mind: "Why put yourself through such abuse?" Well, besides the fact that I am, deep inside, a glutton for punishment, I do believe there's a lot to learn from what we used to write and how we have changed. When I started writing regularly in my profession, I assure you it was a mess. It stunk on ice and I was made very aware of this. However, this provided me the opportunity to learn from these mistakes, to hopefully not make them as much, and discover just how I replaced those mistakes with something better. Not the best, but an improvement.
And that's the real important part - improvement. Part of being a writer is to constantly battle some level of self-doubt while you are studying your craft and developing your technique. Impostor Syndrome is alive and well in the writing community, and we should use every trick in the book to fight off these feelings. My favorite trick is to look how far I have come as a writer. Occasionally, I will even take one of those old essays and rewrite every word just to prove to myself that I now have the tools to do better, and I have done just that. I prove to myself I am better than I used to be.
One last tip: Give credit where credit is due. When we start writing, it's often a struggle to get things just right. However, every now and then we crank out some perfect metaphor and think, "Damn, that was good." Then, twenty years later, we read it and think, "Damn, that's still good." Sometimes our writing doesn't age well, but when it does, give yourself credit for it. After all, the more you write, the more times you will write something great.