Take Your Eyes Off The Rearview Mirror

Don’t let the mistakes and disappointments of the past control and direct your future. ~ Zig Ziglar


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Pain is one of the common denominators of the human experience. Although it inserts itself into our lives in different ways and is felt to varying degrees, every one of us has been hurt and disappointed. We have all felt emotional or physical anguish. Heartache can’t be explained or intellectualized, and it won’t be banished until our minds choose to let go. We can’t stop it from coming; the only choices we have are how to handle it, and whether to carry it forever or leave it behind in the dust.

If you are a writer (or an artist or an architect or a journalist or …), and you’ve poured heart and soul into your work and published it, you’ve also opened yourself to judgment. You’ve chosen a business where your creation is in the public eye. Your baby has been presented for readers to love, praise, criticize, scorn, and evaluate ad infinitum. Critics share their opinions and often slay us with it; some can be vindictive. It’s the nature of publishing; some readers will adore your work, and others will scoff at your talent and hang you out to dry. As Kristine Kathryn Rusch says, “one person’s crap is another person’s beloved book.”

This is the world you wanted to join. It’s part of the gig. You can sit in the corner and feel sorry for yourself, or you can suck it up and get tough. There’s a kernel of something usable in every heart-stabbing disappointment in life; your job is to find it, grow from it, pull yourself up, and get on with it.

Hugh Howey sums up the public’s right to chastise
“I believe in self-publishing, in the right for any and all to express themselves with words. .. I believe in the audaciousness of leaving that guitar case open while strumming on the streets. A free sample is there, a click on a product page no different than strolling for half a block while chords are played and the music washes over you. If it’s a discordant mess, others have the right to shout at you with 1-stars and tell you to shut up, to practice more, to grab their dollar back from the case or never place it there to begin with. They have the right to hurt your feelings, which is why expressing ourselves in public is so raw and dangerous. That danger comes with the territory.”

Feel the pain and move on
What should we do when we get slapped down? Take the high road and move on. Feeling wronged for a period of time and recreating the mental scenario daily are two different things. Reliving grievances, holding grudges, seeking revenge; these things won’t bring clarity. They won’t impact the perpetrator as much as they’ll damage us. Living a painful story over and over will only keep us stuck and give that memory the power to hurt again and again. We can’t allow crappy thoughts from the past to distort our chance for a happy tomorrow.

Success is the best revenge
Easy to say, but what should we do with the pain? How can we channel bad feelings into something good? If you’re a novelist, incorporate it into your work. As Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird, make the naysayer a character in your book. Change their appearance so no one will know; give them a beer belly and a lazy eye, make them suffer through syphilis and die a slow death staked to an ant hill in the scorching sun. Make it the best scene you’ve ever written. Sit under the trees off to the side with a glass of iced tea and watch. That’s the way a writer gets revenge. Use your pain to make your life better (I mean, of course, by writing more books!), not worse.

We’ve always had the power to decide how to feel and where our thoughts are focused. Our best opportunity for happiness is to stop rehashing yesterday’s hurts and concentrate on what’s fabulous about today. The only good reason to look back is to discover what’s holding you back. Then release yourself from it, turn your eyes forward again, and feel a sense of satisfaction about how far you’ve come.

Write your way out
Writing about our wounds can be an effective way to heal them. If you don’t write fiction, try composing  a letter or use the journaling process to help you shake off old hurts and move forward. According to journaling advocate James Pennebaker Ph.D., “journalers who focused on the lessons they learned while they were writing about stressful events found peace in the process.” Here’s how:

Consider the situation that’s bothering you deeply one last time. Identify the pain, disappointment, jealousy or regret that is holding you back. If others are involved, there’s no reason to verbalize your feelings. In your journal or a letter, express every feeling: How they hurt you, what you lost, how the experience has changed you, what you’ve learned from the journey. Write until you’ve said everything you need to say, then destroy the message and move on.

You don’t have to be a writer grappling with bad reviews. Every human on this Earth has events in their past or present they struggle to overcome. Use your pen to resolve and release them so you can take your eyes off the rearview mirror, focus on this beautiful present moment, and create the future of your dreams.

Writing prompt/Exercise: Journaling about past regrets
Set aside half an hour when you won’t be disturbed. Choose a single topic and thoroughly examine how that specific event affected you. Use a “stream of consciousness” style and write down your feelings. Don’t be concerned about spelling or grammar!

Questions to explore:

  • What’s keeping you stuck? What old hurts and ancient regrets are you holding on to?
  • How has clinging to old feelings and events kept you from moving forward?
  • Are you blaming yourself or others, or both?
  • Consider your part: Did your choices contribute to what happened? If so, without placing blame, acknowledge the part you played that led to the negative outcome.
  • Do you see a pattern? How can you take full responsibility for avoiding these and other, similar situations in the future?
  • What actions will you take to choose different scenarios going forward?
  • List the choices and behaviors you will no longer participate in.

Readers, what do you do when life is a challenge?
How do you deal with pain and dissapointment?

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16 Responses to Take Your Eyes Off The Rearview Mirror

  1. Belinda Pollard February 24, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

    So true, Molly. I shed a little tear reading this.

    I think of that old saying: Bitterness is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.

    Sometimes forgiveness takes time, like peeling the onion-layers off a hurt that goes deep. But it’s worth persevering.

    • Molly Greene February 24, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

      I’ve taken the bitter pill before, Belinda, and I can tell you from first-hand experience it didn’t hurt the other party in the LEAST, while I frittered away my precious time thinking about how I’d been wronged. I wrote this for me!

  2. Pamela Beason February 24, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    All great advice, Molly! I have several friends who use past experiences as a reason for not trying to accomplish their dreams. I always ask them, “But what do you want the REST of your life to be like?”

    Like most writers, I like to take revenge in my books. I don’t make my real-life foes ugly or evil in my fiction; I usually make them vapid and greedy. And I do use all my most intense experiences in my books, sooner or later, along with a sprinkling of triumphs and tragedies I’ve watched my friends and family go through. (Authors are obviously dangerous people to associate with.)

    When I’m feeling blue or stuck during the daytime, I usually go for a long walk. (I’ve noticed there are very few grumps outdoors; they seem to wallow indoors in front of their televisions instead.) If my pity party is taking place after dark, I often head off to Zumba or western line dance class. It’s hard to stay in a slump when you’re dancing to music.

    My advice to anyone feeling morose is to get out and get moving. Where the body goes, the mind usually follows.

    • Molly Greene February 24, 2014 at 3:48 pm #

      Hi Pam! I do the same on all counts: use intense experiences in my writing and take a good walk to get out of the house and out in the fresh air. I need to take up Zumba, and I still haven’t gotten out in a kayak (although I was just talking about it to someone the other day). Great advice, thanks so much!

  3. E M Bahnsen February 24, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    I have felt that bad reviews come from readers who feel they are owed something: I bought your book for free, so entertain me. If you don’t, I will punish you.

    Bad reviews speak volumes more about the reader than the book. I read A LOT. Not every book holds my attention; not every book do I finish. I, however, would never write a scathing review because I recognize that the author didn’t address that book TO ME….he/she wrote it for OTHERS.

    Some reviewers hold themselves out to be God-like. They decide who earns a good review or bad review based on their own self-centeredness.

    Or as my husband would say: let that reviewer write a book and wait for reviews.

    Good post! Thank you…..

    • Molly Greene February 24, 2014 at 4:43 pm #

      Thanks, E.M.! Made me chuckle with that line from your husband. So true! My take on reviewers is that they often forget those three little equalizing words: “In my opinion …”

  4. elaine pinkerton coleman February 24, 2014 at 4:47 pm #

    This was a very helpful post! I have called my dark uber-critical side “Edgar”( in a memoir I recently wrote about growing up as an adoptee and also in my weekly blog posts). Even when something is good and successful, “Edgar” manages to look at the half empty glass rather than the full glass. I’ve learned to live with the demon and beat it down. It never STAYS down but then again, it can no longer sneak up on me and ruin my day. I’d say that AWARENESS is one of the best weapons to avoid the rear view window syndrome.

    • Molly Greene February 24, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

      So true, Elaine. Doing our best to be aware of what we’re thinking and feeling helps. And once we’re aware, do something about it!

  5. Stephanie Faris February 24, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    My book comes out in three weeks…so I definitely need to read this! I’m telling myself that I shouldn’t read my reviews to avoid the pain, but maybe I need to just jump right in.

    • Molly Greene February 24, 2014 at 5:23 pm #

      Arrggh! I took one of my bad reviews and turned it into dialogue in the next book. Hahahahahahaaaaaa! You have to have a thick skin.

  6. Dannie Hill February 24, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    Well said, Molly. I’m a big strong man who writes and I’ve let a few reviews tear my heart out and leave me in a ditch. Isn’t it funny how all the great reviews you get mean little when you get a bad one.

    We had an old saying when I worked as a youth. “It takes 10 attaboys to make up for one ahshit”.

    Your words are wise and so true. I do enjoy your blog

    • Molly Greene February 24, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

      Oh, Dannie! We’ve all taken a few shots in reviews, and maybe a few shots to get over them 🙂 … and you’re so right; it’s the bad reviews that stay with us. We need to turn that around. KEEP WRITING!

  7. Catherine L Vickers February 25, 2014 at 4:22 am #

    As always Molly, you talk such sense. Yep, I can say I’ve been scraped up by my family, and only just learning to cope with this. We say we can take criticism as it is useful for improvement, but it does hurt. I recently gave a 5 star in a swapped read and review, because I loved the book. However, what I got back just ripped me apart. I nearly gave up writing. How can one reader give you 5 and another absolutely slate your writing. I’m now back up and running and putting it down to experience. This is why I liked this blog posting. Most artistes can relate to it. If they can’t, I think they’re hiding their heads in the sand or the haven’t got to this part yet.

    • Molly Greene February 25, 2014 at 7:53 am #

      Thanks, Catherine. Reviews are a really tough part of the publishing process, and I think nearly every author has gotten at least one bad one that nearly guts us. Like Rusch says, though, one person’s treasured book isn’t necessarily everyone else’s favorite. The question is how long do we hold on to the disappointment?

  8. Barry Knister February 25, 2014 at 9:10 am #

    I would add just one thing to your latest excellent post. I know you are offering good advice to people brought down by rejection, etc. But in addition to surviving disappointment, writers need to develop tough skins for a second reason: sometimes, there are valuable lessons to be learned from rejection/criticism. The writer who can get past his/her sense of being wronged is better able to listen to, and possibly learn from a painful experience.
    And, yes, this is much easier said than done. I know, from experience.

    • Molly Greene February 25, 2014 at 9:14 am #

      I agree with you 100% Barry. There is always something to be gained form any and every experience, even a bad review. The takeaway can strengthen our writing and our characters. Thanks so much for pointing that out!