When we do something silly, stupid, or outright wrong, it’s almost a truism that we’re harder on ourselves than on anyone else. And we’re harder on ourselves than others are on us. We cover our faces in shrouds of shame, drone endless internal harangues of self-recrimination, and wish vainly we could turn back the time.
Self-deprecating reactions and behaviors can be supremely evident in our writing life. We send a vapid query, and get a prompt rejection, to the important agent (on whom we’d pinned our hopes). We attach too soon the unproofread proposal to the important publisher (on whom we’d pinned our dreams). We don’t soften or sleep on the petulant email to a reviewer of our latest (on whom we’d pinned our propulsion to bestsellerdom). In all such actions, we feel we’ve “sinned” irrevocably.
But—we can choose again, in both self-labeling and subsequent actions. Do you know the original classical Greek meaning of sin? It meant to “miss the mark or target,” and its use in Old English referred to archery (see Eric Butterworth, Discover the Power Within You). A mistake, a missed take, a misjudgment. My take on this query, proposal, reply was missed. Simple as that.
Missing the mark, the archer takes up another arrow. The sculptor takes up another lump of clay. The chef drags out another bag of flour. Can you picture any of them collapsing on the floor and falling apart sobbing, blubbering that they feel so guilty for their mistake they can’t go on? Neither can I.
If you still feel your mistakes are irretrievable or completely uncorrectable and your mortification lethal, think of athletes on national television or worldwide events—football, baseball, tennis, soccer stars. When they make a mistake (fumble, strikeout with bases loaded, double fault, penalty), it’s exposed before millions of people and can cost them not only black-and-blue egos but millions of dollars. They don’t have the luxury of running off the field into the locker room dissolving in tears. Maybe they frown, curse under their breath, or fist-punch the air in frustration, but they just get back into the game.
And what do we as writers do, or should? Take up a fresh piece of paper, open a new file, rethink the structure or consistency, recommit to improvement and excellence. Every time we condemn ourselves, we not only suffer needlessly but also, giving our energy to self-attack, we cut off our creativity to remedy the situation. Instead, as Gerald Jampolsky advises, we can simply choose “another way” (Love Is Letting Go of Fear, p. 93). We can—and should—climb back on the horse and canter out again, no matter how badly we think we’ve bruised our derrières.
If it helps, look at it this way: We’ve “sinned” so we can grow. Wayne Dyer refers to this principle about many less-than-rosy experiences in our lives (10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace, p. 75):
As tough as it is to acknowledge, you had to go through what you went through in order to get to where you are today. . . . Those dark times . . . and broken Dreams were all in order. . . . Embrace them from that perspective . . . and then understand them, accept them, honor them, and finally retire and/or transform them in your own way. expand
In other words, we made our mistakes because that’s where we were at the time. We needed to act the way we did to learn and develop so we could get to the next step. We are called on to accept our mistakes, not let them torpedo us, choose to minimize them, and finally find ways around the cement walls, in life and in our writing.
So, when you think you’ve sinned, rethink. Your lists of potential agents and editors can be added to, your roster of reviewers broadened. Your paper is unlimited, and your virtual files are virtually infinite. Your opportunities to revise are as unbounded as you have the will and passion for. We have endless opportunities to choose again.
Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne writes fiction and nonfiction, having published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Writer’s Digest, The Writer, ReadLearnWrite, Women on Writing, Transformation Magazine, 11.11, and Unity booklets. Her monthly column, “Bloom Where You’re Writing,” appears in Coffeehouse for Writers. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has helped doctoral candidates complete their dissertations (finally), with a practical-psychological-spiritual handbook in progress. In her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books; one of ten best 2011 ebooks), she draws examples from her practice and other aspects of life to help writers and others release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. With Trust Your Life, Noelle appears in the Unity Books 2013 “Summer of Self-Discovery.” Discussions appear on Goodreads: http://www.unity.org/publications/unity-books/summer-reading-series, Her webinar on the book of June 26, 2013, can be heard and seen on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?V=95EeqllONIQ.