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Learning to Forgive Yourself
I was recently at the anniversary party for 88 Cups of Tea, and I met a writer who told me how much my posts here mean to her. She noticed I hadn’t posted in a month, haha called out, and I asked her what she liked the most about my posts. She said, honesty. That really struck me and inspired me. So, here’s another honest one.
It’s always been fascinating to me how when you’re thinking about a “thing” sometimes the universe contrives it so that “thing” pops up everywhere. This week alone, I’ve had a lot of seemingly random conversations with people about failure. I’ve written about failure a lot, particularly within this post in which I talk about not linking your sense of self-worth to your failures.
That was a hard post for me to write. But, today, I want to talk about something even more difficult than that (I started tearing up while writing this). Because it’s one thing to learn how not to link your self-worth to your failures. It’s another thing entirely to forgive yourself for failing.
I have struggled with forgiveness all my life. One, I’m a petty person who forgets nothing so boy who put his boogers on my shirt in 3rd grade, I will never forgive you. But also, my anxiety exacerbates this problem when it comes to myself making it so that I never forget anything I’ve done wrong. I’ve had nights in which I’ve stayed up remembering things from years ago or trying to catch up on just random tasks I felt I was behind on instead of just forgiving myself and saying it’s okay Patrice, let’s move on.
So, even though I’m writing this post, I want to be really clear that this less of a how to and more of a I’m still struggling with it myself, let’s weep together.
That said, I have had some success, a lot recently, in forgiveness when it comes to writing. I think this started because I don’t write every day and for the longest time I felt like I had to defend that to people. I would talk about how I’m editor and so when I’m working on a bunch of edits or trying to acquire books, I don’t always have the creative energy to write. I would say that I like immersing myself in my authors worlds, so it’s hard to also be immersed in my own. Or I say, oh I just don’t like writing every day and it’s bad to force your craft. But then I realized that I wasn’t actually defending myself to these random people, I was defending myself to me. I felt like I needed a list of reasons why I wasn’t writing every day because the guilt was eating me alive. Every time something amazing happened to someone else, I was like well if you wrote every day maybe that would happen to you. Lies, your process is your process. And, so I had to actually and actively forgive myself for not writing every day and once I did, my whole energy shifted. I leaned into my process. I actually think I became a more productive writer because my headspace wasn’t full of me berating myself.
Still, I struggle to forgive myself when it comes to other writing things… like deadlines. I am the queen of setting self-imposed deadlines. Even when I know I need a break. I push myself to hit my own deadline. I’m tired and stressed. Eventually I’m forced to take a break. My deadline sails by while I’m taking said break. I get upset at myself. Recently, my agent sent me notes and asked for them back next week (because I’m about to go on a writing retreat where we both knew I’d have more time to work on them). I, however, was like no. I’m turning them in this week. I KNEW this week was going to be hectic for me, though. I had events every evening. I had books I was trying to acquire and I was exhausted every day. I had already previously written my notes out on the printed manuscript so all I had to do was finish typing everything in. Finally, as this week was coming to a close I emailed my agent and was like I can’t do it, you’ll have it next week and he was just like “no worries.” I KNEW he would say that (it was my fake deadline after all and he knows me, I work hard). I started to get frustrated with myself. All that stress for nothing. I needed to forgive myself so that I could move forward.
It helps me to say it aloud: Patrice you can rush yourself and get these edits in but you won’t be happy with the finished product. You’ve worked so hard on this, now isn’t the time to rush. You’re stressed, focus on editorial work. Focus on the events you have this week. Forgive yourself.
And then I hugged myself and forgave myself for failing to miss my self-imposed deadline and for getting frustrated at myself.
I know we’ve all been there to some degree. Maybe you don’t have an agent and you’re querying and you feel like you rushed your edits and now you’re getting rejections from agents and you’re like I could’ve fixed this had I taken that extra time. So then you blame yourself and say something like this: I rushed this because I had a self-imposed deadline about when I needed to have an agent and when I needed to be published, plus my friends are so far ahead of me—why am I behind!?
This thinking is so dangerous. Trust me, I’ve been there. That was me just 3 years ago. Heck, that was mostly me this week.
First, admit it. Maybe you did rush your edits. I was talking to a writer about this earlier this week and I was like what’s some of the feedback you’re getting from rejected full manuscripts…the feedback was all over the place. So I basically was like take the consistent feedback, take the parts you agree with, pull the manuscript from the other agents and work on it etc., but more importantly forgive yourself for any role you had to play. I’ve rushed revisions with my agent only to get back notes on things that I knew were problems. I felt I had wasted his time, so I got mad at myself, as well as my time so I got even more upset at myself. Eventually disappointment was taking up so much of my head space that it took me months to do the edits because I first had to overcome my number one enemy, myself.
Of course there are times when we are to blame. But beating yourself up won’t solve anything. As writers, our creativity is so a part of who we are—it’s our very essence. So when you bring that negative energy into your being, it infects your creativity. Take a deep breath and forgive yourself. I know it’s not easy. It is one of the hardest lessons you will learn. But truly, baby steps. For me, the first step was forgiving myself for not writing every day. Then it became forgiving myself for failing to meet my ridiculous, often unachievable deadlines. Then, it became forgiving myself for failing to meet achievable ones. I’m still working on that last part.
A few additional tips:
I try to allow myself an allotted time to cry or whine or whatever about a thing. So if I’m upset at myself about not dedicating enough time to a certain project, I rant at myself for five minutes and then I forgive myself by reminding myself of all the things going on in my life, all things I have accomplished (no matter how small). I take a deep breath and make some tea and try to focus on other things (not the perceived failures).
I call a friend. Sometimes it’s just a text. Get someone in your life who’s real good at balancing “real talk” with compliments. Good friends know when you need to be reminded that you’re slacking and when you need to be given a (virtual) hug and when you need help making a new game plan.
I no longer try to put all my focus on one thing. I used to be someone who ONLY worked on one project at a time. Every new project was the only chance I had. I LABORED over it. And, every time I failed to land an agent, etc. with a book it wrecked my world. My mental health got a lot worse my senior year of college, so I had to actually develop ways to live with my anxiety. It took a few years, but as a result, I now spread the anxiety and the love, which works. I have something I’m working on that I adore and I hope will be my debut, but if that doesn’t happen, I have 3 other projects in various stages that I adore as well. It was something very necessary for me to do because I lead with passion in every stage of my life, which means that "failing" hurts even more. And while writing is your craft, publishing is a business so sometimes you need passion laced with strategy.
It also helps that all these projects are things I told myself I couldn’t ever write just now, so yes, I’m being strategic but I’m excited to work on them because I love a challenge. I can better forgive myself in this way—maybe I couldn’t figure out that plot problem but I can switch to another project where I know what to write next and go back to the other when I’m less stressed.
Forgiving yourself doesn’t mean you’re not holding yourself accountable. If anything it means you recognize any part you may have played that led to the undesired outcome. But, you also recognize that the universe can be a pain in the butt and life happens and we’re only human (I think, haha). So, forgive yourself. Learn from your mistakes. And repeat.
Have a great weekend, y'all! And, as always, feel free to share thoughts and tips in the comments + on social <333