Don’t Look Back

If you’re anything like me, your brain spends a good portion of its time and energy reminding you of all the things you should’ve done, however big or small. Making you feel guilty for never learning how to draw, or taking a trip abroad, or working out, or writing, or whatever.

If you’re a lot like me, that guilt becomes crippling. In my case, it hits me hardest when I skip a day of writing. (Or two. Or three…)

The left side of my brain, my Inner Editor–that pesky perfectionist–gets stuck in a loop. She looks back at my screw-up, whatever it was, and replays it a thousand times, analyzing it, and making me feel like crap for not getting it right the first time.

Sometimes, if it’s really bad, she’ll replay my entire life, questioning every choice, criticizing every action and lack of action. (She especially enjoys doing this right as I’m trying to fall asleep, or right when I sit down to write).

Can you guess what happens next?

Nothing. She stays stuck in that loop, pushing each of my flaws and failures to the forefront of my mind. And then I feel so awful that I continue not to write, or work out, or go abroad, or learn to draw, or whatever. And that just adds more fuel to her fire.

“You should’ve spent time writing before you went out yesterday, Paula.”
“Should’ve cleaned the apartment first thing, instead of procrastinating the day away.”
“You should’ve started exercising years ago.”

On and on she goes.

When I allow myself to spend too long looking back, I have a hard time looking away again. Because my Inner Editor is a huge perfectionist, she focuses on the things I got wrong (never mind all the things I got right)–and she stays stuck, because she wants so badly to fix those errors. But she can’t. It’s in the past, it’s done.

The only way to get my mind out of that loop is to grab my Inner Editor by the ears and force her to turn around and look aheadTo envision myself in the future: six months down the road, a year, five years, ten. To glimpse the person I want to be, the things I want to accomplish. And then, before I can waste time daydreaming, to stop looking towards the future and look right here, right now, and start doing what needs to be done to get where I want to be.

Never mind all those times I didn’t accomplish what I set out to. No looking back.

I can’t change the years I spent dreaming of writing and never actually doing it. I can write right now, and keep writing every day for the rest of my life. Ditto for exercising, learning to draw, whatever it may be.

And if I slip up, there’s no point dwelling on it. Dwelling never helped anything. What does help is brushing myself off and moving forward, getting better.

Daenerys Targaryen has a great mantra in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series: “If I look back, I am lost.” She means it a little differently than I do, but the phrase holds true for me nonetheless, and maybe it holds true for you, too.

Because when I look back, I often do get lost. Very, very lost.

So here’s to looking ahead.



Quit While You’re Ahead

I got an interesting e-mail from my (amazingly supportive) dad today.

Subj: I was looking

Body: for a quotation about the process and progress of writing things and stumbled upon some interesting advice. When one takes a break it should be while one is still in the mood to write.

Makes sense to me – leaving on a high note.

I’d never thought of it that way. But, honestly, it makes sense to me, too. And I think it may be the key to me finally writing consistently, the way I want to.

I love stories. I love creating. I love imagining. I love writingBut sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s work. Most of those times, it’s because I let my Inner Editor get it in the way. She has a death grip on my creative process. While I can stifle her for a little while each day, eventually she rears her ugly head and tears my work to shreds. Then, I don’t think what I’m writing is good enough, or that I can’t pull it off, or [fill in paralyzing insecurity here].  Then I can’t get the words to flow anymore. Or I can, but I find myself hating them. My Muse, hurt by my Inner Editor’s harsh criticisms, runs off to lock herself in some dark and hidden corner of my mind, taking all her words and wonder with her. And then I get frustrated. And then I quit for the day, thinking I’ll start fresh with my Muse tomorrow. When I come knocking the next day (if I do–often fear of my Inner Editor keeps me from even trying), I have to practically drag my Muse out by the hair to come play. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now, instead, I’m going to start quitting while I’m ahead–before my Inner Editor can jump in for the day, and I get frustrated.

I’ve got a tendency to want to get things right the first time, and get them done right away. Writing isn’t like that, but my Inner Editor doesn’t understand that yet. She can learn, but I have to stop expecting that that’s going to happen right away, too. So I’m going to start small, and keep it small for a while–small enough that I know my Inner Editor won’t have time to break free (she’ll get her time later, during revisions):

Half an hour of writing a day, and then stop. Even if I’m still itching to write. Especially if I’m still itching to write. Because then the next day, instead of hiding from me, my Muse will be jumping up and down to greet me, excited to play, impatient to pick up where we left off. And I’ll be there to greet her with a smile, every single day.