The past is not the place for a working writer to be all the time. That’s the realm of guilt and regrets where questions of should, could and would tend to dominate. The more time you spend thinking about things you can’t control, the less time you spend thinking about what really matters— the writing.
Regret can be a powerful motivators. The desire to avoid it can drive you to work hard, but slip ups can feel devastating and lead to more regrets. Perhaps you missed an important goal or made a decision that led to a bad outcome. The fear of either situation can do one of two things: make you work harder or drive you to stop trying.
Successful people work in spite of that fear. They understand that you get what you think about most of the time so if you dwell on mistakes then that’s what you will get in return. That’s not to say they don’t acknowledge the bad things, on the contrary, they face the consequences and move on faster than unsuccessful people.
Regrets stem from the past where major success and failure are extrapolated into perceived future that is not wholly grounded in reality. For example, the writer that can’t get started on the second novel is still in some ways rooted to a past success that they perceive they can’t overcome the second time around. Yet how does anybody know how successful that second novel will be if it hasn’t even been written yet? This is different from making an informed decision based on experience you gleaned from the past. The difference is that informed decisions are fully grounded in the present, based on circumstance rather than an irrational need to avoid having regrets.
Writing is a task that requires you to vacillate between thinking about past, present and future. You draw on research and knowledge from the past to write in the present and then edit your story trying to anticipate what a future audience is going to think.
The trap lay in spending too much time dwelling on the past and future. No matter how much thinking you may have to do, the task of writing always happens in the present. I may have thought about what this post was about in the past and you may be reading these words at a future date, but I typed everything out in the here and now.
To approach your writing goals with an air of negativity does not make a sustainable career. Bad feelings can always be traced to some past regret or anxiety that is based on a projected future that stems from those regrets. It’s necessary to work through that negativity before getting started or else writing will become a grind— It’ll be something you’re forced to do. Every hesitation becomes a reason to stop writing because it’s simply not appealing to you.
Writing doesn’t have to be something you enter kicking and screaming. It’s shouldn’t feel difficult or hard, but a genuinely enjoyable experience. The actual work may be difficult sure, anything creative is, but sitting down to focus on something you genuinely love should never be a problem.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to regrets:
There are no such things as a mistake- The nature of creating goals is binary. You either succeed or fail at it and that clear cut distinction either forces you into one camp or another. Trying does not guarantee success, but not trying guarantees failure.
There are a lot of people who can’t even muster up the courage to try because past mistakes have caused them to decide that future efforts equate to failure.
Thankfully, you have the ability to frame things any way you want and in the realm of trying there is no such thing as a mistake. To get started means you have enough self worth to believe that something is possible. The outcome may not be to your liking, but taking action is never a mistake no matter how you may frame it after the fact.
Failure does not mean you made a mistake, it means you have an opportunity to do it better in the future.
Learn the value of acceptance- Successful writers learn to identify the things they can control and act on it. The hallmark of insanity is dwelling on things you can’t do anything about and spending time fretting on it.
This may sound difficult, especially when it comes to something you care a lot about, but it’s actually quite simple. The key is acceptance. It’s realizing that something is absolutely out of your hands then taking ownership over those feelings by choosing to act on things that are in your sphere of influence.
It’s impossible to take take ownership over something that you haven’t acknowledged yet so the first step is being aware of where your mind is going. Once you realize it then it’s a simple matter of choosing to focus your attention on things that are more important.
This may be hard for people that believe they are in control of everything, but in many ways it’s about being ok with not being in control sometimes. The sooner you realize that the sooner you can focus on the things that you are really in control of.