A Time for Looking Back


Years ago, when I was contemplating a cross-country move to pursue my dream of stock car racing, a wise friend gave me this piece of advice, “don’t ever look back.” What he meant was, once you make a decision, don’t second-guess it. Don’t waste your time over “what-ifs”. Own your choice, and follow it through. And that’s very good advice. But there are times when it’s good to look back.

Earlier this week I found myself slipping into a funk. Getting up each morning had become increasingly more difficult, because I’d lost faith in my current project. Or maybe I never had it to begin with. My WIP is a sequel to a book I haven’t sold, a book that may well be too far out of the mainstream to make it in this difficult market. So every day, I’d been feeling guilty for squandering my time. But worse than that, I just hadn’t been able to connect with the story. I didn’t care about the characters or the tragedies that were about to befall them. I felt like every word I wrote was drivel, my prose filled with that insidious “was” and too sentimental to ever make it in the edgy world of YA fiction. The only reason I kept with it was that I didn’t know what else to do with myself. The new book idea I’d come up with hadn’t yet ripened enough to harvest.

Then I read a couple of chapters to my husband, something I do to catch typos and places where the prose isn’t smooth. I use him as a guinea pig because reading out loud to myself or the cats is boring, and I like to be able to ask for feedback, even though Bob’s comments rarely go beyond, “yeah, works for me.” The chapters I read were some I’d written in mid-December, long enough ago that they weren’t fresh in my head. And the amazing thing was, I liked them. Sure, there were some rough spots—it is a first draft—but there were also plenty of great metaphors, snappy bits of dialog, and realistic emotions. I even earned a, “well, you really embarrassed the hell out of Jess,” (the protagonist) from my normally monosyllabic husband. This simple, accidental exercise renewed my faith in the book, and for the first time since I started writing it, I felt a real bond with my characters. Since then, I’ve been tackling chapters like the Energizer bunny on an espresso bender.

The lesson in all this is that sometimes we tend to look at what we have left to accomplish, the long hike ahead that seems way too difficult to tackle. We don’t give ourselves credit for the miles behind us, the obstacles surmounted and difficulties overcome. In a world where productivity equals respect, we tend to focus on that next goal, rather than patting ourselves on the back for the last success.

The next time you find yourself overwhelmed, faithless, and buried by what you haven’t yet mastered, take a peek over your shoulder. You may be amazed to see how many miles are behind you, and how many people are watching, marveling over what you’ve accomplished.

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13 Responses to A Time for Looking Back

  1. ElanaJ says:

    Such a great suggestion. I try to read out loud and it all sounds stupid. So I use the text to speech function on my computer and it doesn’t sound so bad.

    And BTW, I LOVE your header. I love that pink sunset.

    And srsly? An agent died while reading your MS? You win; we don’t need the worry-off. *winkage*

    Like

  2. I read out loud to my husband as well. He tells me when things don’t quite make sense. Your post was very timely. I keep looking at how far behind I got over the last few months and how far I have to go to catch up and yet if I look back I have finished one book and am searching for a publisher for it. Working on two others. I have made great progress. Thanks. Sometimes we need to see that others are facing the same thing.

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  3. roselefebvre says:

    I am glad to hear you are “energized” again! Now I look forward to more of the book! I love hearing it. I missed the last chrysalis meeting as work was a madhouse! I hope I did nto miss any!!! If so, you MUST send it to me!

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  4. macrush53 says:

    I read aloud as well. I have to hear those words. Glad to hear you pulled yourself out of a funk. Winter can do that at times. Hang in.

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  5. Roxie says:

    Or you could just listen to your friends cheering from the sidelines. Or don’t you believe us when we tell you that your work is good?

    But yeah, one of the reasons I keep photos of things I have made is so I can occasionally go through them and say, “I forgot all about that sweater. Damn. I AM good!”

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  6. mad says:

    “The new book idea hadn’t ripened enough to harvest” — I love that! And you’re so right about looking back — the good and the bad. Thanks for this post.

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  7. Casey says:

    Hey, Lisa! I gave you an award on my blog. It’s fabulous posts like these that made me think of you. Great advice, very inspiring. I’m glad you’ve moved past your funk.

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  8. Fabulous post, Lisa! Many times, the stuff we tell ourselves in our heads is way off base–it takes a reality check to realize we’re actually doing okay. Or better than okay.

    I know an editor at a literary magazine who handwrites on every form rejection letter: “Onward!” That’s practically become my motto.

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  9. pat says:

    This whole post had a really good feel to it. When a feeling comes from words-you have written well.

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  10. Thanks for sharing your experience. I go through those phases too–writing a novel takes such a long time. It helps to go back and discover what you’ve accomplished. Keep at it!

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  11. Lisa G. says:

    Thanks! I needed to hear that…

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  12. shelli says:

    its amazing how far we come…yet it feels like we stay in the same place.

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  13. millymarie says:

    Beautiful post I love the ‘Own your choice, and follow it through,’ but I also loved what you said at the end on looking back at what you accomplished, had overcome, and pat yourself on the back. Very wonderful thank you!

    Like

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