However, last night was the "long moon." (Also sometimes "cold moon" or "oak moon.") It's the last full moon before the solstice. That's an astronomic term, not just for us new age folks who like to wank off with our moon water. And whether you consider lunar cycles to have any particular spiritual significance or would just prefer to consider a social psychological practice, the long moon is a time where a lot of people ritualistically let go of the fetters and thoughts that no longer serve them.
For me, it's a tricky practice. I don't just let go of every terrible event or relationship or moment that's ever happened to me. Some of those experiences have galvanized me, and sometimes the worst things I go through end up leaving this indelible goodness in places and ways I could never have expected. And as I tried to carefully edit my list, I started to realize how well some of the ideas I wanted to let go of mapped onto my own career and creative life.
So I came up with a list for writers.
[Before we go ANY further, I want to take a moment to talk about the gaslighting effect of toxic positivity. Letting go of that which no longer serves us is NOT THE SAME THING!
We're not going to always look on the bright side. There's no benefit to feeling guilt over negative emotions. Just because "it could be worse" does not mean it isn't bad, or a person should never feel bad feelings. Not everything will work out, and the universe is cold and uncaring—not your secret conspiratorial pal. (The tendency for everything to work out is more accurately described as privilege.) Not everyone gets a happy ending. And on top of the ways in which negative emotions are ignored and shamed, toxic positivity can fountainhead a whole movement that tries to whitewash systemic and systematic injustice with "love and light" and call any attempt to accurately recognize such injustice as "negativity."
For some folks, some of the items on this list cannot be simply willed out of existence no matter how intense one's spiritual practice. Some will require years of therapy. Some need meds. Some of the items on this list (in some cases all) will be made worse by mental illnesses, and just wishing them gone on a particular full moon night won't fix the problem. Some may be chronic in the lives of a number of writers, and they will spend a lifetime working around them. I make no value or moral judgements about anyone's ABILITY to let these go. But if they can be released, a writer will be better for it.]
Spoiler alert. It'll never be perfect. You have to find the sweet spot of "as good as you can get it for what you're trying to do" and then let it go. If you're trying to write a literary masterpiece, maybe you put in a few more drafts than if you are punching out the 15th popcorn novel in a series so that your fans will buy it up and keep your rent paid for the next six months. But whatever you're trying to accomplish, at some point, it's reached its glass ceiling of limited returns. And that's when it's time for you to do what all artists should do, and move on.
Perfectionism just leads to anxiety, procrastination, and a fear of failure that will stymie ANY progress.
Make it as good as you can (for what it is). Done is better than perfect.
2- Comparative Benchmarks of Success
There will always be someone with a more widely read blog or better selling novel or who is just a little further along in their career. To say nothing of the Stephen Kings and Neil Gaimans and Colleen Hoovers who eclipse us all with their phenomenal success. This has never been clearer to me than having entire MFA cohorts gawking at my relative success while I try to justify the expense of eating at Panera for the second time in a week. I bet Stephen King gets Panera as often as he….okay, maybe best to let this go.
We are absolutely SOAKING in a commercial culture that wants us to compare ourselves to each other. (Often so we'll buy a product that'll make us feel better about that comparison—see below.) But these comparisons lead to feelings of envy, depression, and are inextricable from a certain virulent sense of entitlement about what we are due. Better to focus on the work and how to continue forth with the best possible effort day after day.
3- Rampant Materialism
Look, there's a whole movement that tries to shame poor people for going to the emergency room or for eating anything but beans and rice. Fuck that. FUCK IT. We all require safety, which includes food security, shelter, medical care, and not worrying about the clicking noise that the only car available we have to get to the job two towns over has started making. There are an awful lot of people who have nothing to cut out of a budget and who have to do what they can to make ends meet. Believe me. I walk a neighbor's dog for a few bucks anytime I want Panera.
But there is a level of materialism that a writer could do without. This is not a well-paying career until/unless one is well established with a LOT of work in the rearview. Everything from being secure on a tighter budget to not having to work long hours at some job that takes you away from writing will be served by not letting a never-sated lifestyle obsession dictate the unending quest for more and better stuff.
4- Limiting Beliefs/Negative Self-Talk
You can't do ANYTHING you set your mind to, no matter what the cishet white male motivational speaker with the six-figure salary says you can. And acknowledging systemic and systematic injustices and inequalities in a world rampant with both is not somehow what's holding folks back. No matter how clear the thought, or how many candles are lit, no one can manifest themselves out of real-world limitations.
But there is a needle to thread, especially for a writer. If you give oxygen to your catastrophic intrusive thoughts, you create a reality in which these objectives are just as impossible as you believe them to be. If you keep thinking that you can't write that book or no one will ever want to read you, you are very likely to talk yourself out of even trying. Then you definitely won't get it done.
Sometimes there's a fine line between blithely spewing rainbows up people's butts and a simple belief that you can accomplish something worthwhile if you keep trying. (Maybe not exactly what you wanted, but something.) Not every positive thought has the ability to alter your reality…but ironically, most negative ones actually do.
5- Concern for the Opinions of Others
Please understand that I'm not telling you to go publish your unedited NaNoWriMo novel because other people's opinions are useless. I'm not telling you that you don't need an editor or peer feedback or to listen to anyone. You have to be willing to listen to some people.
But it's up to you who.
If you sit around and worry about the opinions of everyone, you'll never get it done. It's just too damned scary. MOST people won't like what you do. People won't like your style. They won't like your content. They won't like your politics. They won't like your philosophy. They won't like your adherence to a style guide that puts in the comma when they wouldn't have. They won't like your adherence to a style guide that leaves out the comma that they would have put in. They won't like that you said "fuck." They won't like your joke about cishet white dudes. They won't like that you eat at Panera. There are eight billion people in the world, and even if you somehow manage to reproduce the outrageous, phenomenal, unthinkable success of She Who Shall Not be Named and sell 500 million copies (which is far from being LIKED by everyone who buys a copy, BTW), you still will have 15/16ths of the world basically unimpressed by you. MOST people aren't going to like you. And if you sit around caring about all of them, not only will your simple act of expressing YOURSELF suffer, but you'll never find the people who will think you're great.
6- Your Past Failed Goals
You either hit them or you didn't.
Kudos if you did—or got close.
If not, don't dwell on it. Get up. Dust yourself off. Set new goals—perhaps slightly easier ones. This is a new day/week/month/year.
I wanted to be published by 30…then 40…now I'm thinking 50 might be a stretch.
But if I let my failure at 30 define me, I'd never have a writing career. Hell, if I let my failure to write two articles a week during my cancer recovery define me, I'd be sunk.
If you aren't failing at goals from time to time, your goals are too easy. Set new ones.
7- Saying Yes to Everything
Protect your writing time.
Protect your writing time.
Protect your writing time.
I can't tell you what your priorities in life are. Family? MMORPGs? Sex parties? Dating? Eating at Panera? Off-road mountain biking? But if you say yes to EVERYTHING, there's nothing left for writing. It's really that simple.
8- The Excuses
We've all got them, and most of them suck.
You'd be harder pressed to find someone who DOESN'T think they have a book in them…along with a list of excuses as long ass their arm for why they haven't written it.
If you don't want to write, don't write. That's okay. No really, that's really, really, REALLY okay.
If you do want to write, you have to let go of the excuses.
[Insert a Panera joke here.]
Negative self talk is one thing. Thinking you don't need an editor or that your first draft is ready after a quick edit is another. Get rid of both.
If you want to be a writer, you have to let go of the idea that you are a gift to the written word. You need an editor (maybe two). You need to revise. You need to trust the process and rewrite rather than just polish your first draft. You need to get messy.
If you just want to self-publish, admire your own book on your own bookshelf, and never even sell enough to buy lunch at Panera, don't let me get in your way. But if you want more than your pressured-into-it friends buying your novel, you need to release your ego.