You know those icebreakers that happen at the start of a new group program, or a Zoom meet-up, or college orientation? The ones where they ask you to tell two truths and a lie about yourself (I have an amazing hack for that game btw), or share a “fun fact” that people don’t usually know about you?
Yeah, I could definitely say “I’m a published author!” at those, but I have spent the past four years only kind-of remembering that I am one.
Not anymore though! I’ve recently been spending time with my past writer-self. Specifically, two versions of my writer self.
The first is the writer who started this blog in 2012 when it was called Born Again Minimalist. I had just left my first marriage and was living with my mom and stepdad. When I got my own place and started fresh, I had looked around at all the unpacked stuff that I would have to move and realized I didn’t even know what was there, or if I really wanted or needed it.
That writer embarked on a journey of decluttering and minimalism. She wrote about stuff that I would say now is kind of boring. It’s certainly not the highest caliber writing to ever be etched onto the internet’s long memory. But she showed up and kept going.
The second writer I reconnected with is the author of The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation, my book published in 2019. I have distanced myself from her emotionally in the last four years and have only scratched the surface of undoing that distance lately.
(Note: I use she/her pronouns to describe my past self. I currently use they/them).
Unhelpful Writing Thought 1: My old writing is bad (and therefore worthless).
It’s the worthless part of this thought that is unhelpful. Because your old writing, if all goes well, will be bad. That’s how you become a better writer. By writing poorly and figuring it out as you go, learning more, refining your process and craft, and becoming a good writer.
But that old writing is absolutely sacred.
That old writing is the place where you took your first authorly steps and fell on your authorly ass while you found your footing. That old writing is a beautiful preservation of what it looks like to keep going.
I love to show my writing clients my old writing, because they think of me as an expert, as an aspiration they might one day achieve. And I get to say no, look. I wrote this absolutely pointless blog post about having a small purse. And I can see it click. They realize: OH. THIS IS PART OF IT. Writing the “bad” writing is PART OF becoming a writer.
And though I can show my clients easily, I hadn’t taken the time to go show myself my past writing until recently.
Time for the story of THE CURSED PROJECT.
Once upon a time, roughly, ohh, three or four years ago now, I decided that I wanted to create a spreadsheet of all my past blogs, their themes, and links to them so that I could have an easily-accessible database of everything I’d written.
Every time I hired someone to do this project, it went wrong. Three times. Once, boredom and an opting out after doing a couple months’ worth (this was my sister). Once, the project was apparently done, but never appeared in its finished form. I assume internet gremlins ate the file. And finally, I hired someone to do it and they were very excited about it and had shared progress with me. One Facebook shit fire later, they and two other mutual friends had blocked me.
I refused to hire out for this project again, though people wanted to do it. The same kind of people who would go to a haunted house to talk to ghosts, I assume.
I realized why the project never worked out once I started reviewing the oldest blogs on this website myself. Because I was the one who needed to read them. Reading the old blogs made me see that old version of myself and how I was coping in the world at that time.
I didn’t become a minimalist because I liked clean aesthetics or wanted to reduce my carbon footprint. I was trying to be so tiny, to take up so little space, to be nearly invisible — because I was tired of being made to feel small by those around me. I was in so much pain, and it took a decade for me to be able to look back and see it clearly.
So no, those early blogs were not a waste. Even though I no longer write about minimalism. Even though I am a better writer now. Even though I am a published author now. They were proof that I was taking up at least a small amount of space, that I thought my voice was important enough to share that story. I’m so grateful to her for taking that tiniest of steps.
Unhelpful writing thought 2: my success was a fluke
This was my favorite for a while, and is a big reason I haven’t been as supportive of my book as I wish I had been. I wrote a blog post in 2016 called The Gaslighting of the Millennial Generation and it went viral. Over a million people read it. I was FREAKING. OUT. I got an email from an agent in response to the blog; he invited me to talk about the possibility of expanding it into a book. I WAS FREAKING OUT YET AGAIN.
My story for so long was that my blog auto-published to Twitter, and he saw it on Twitter, so it was a total fluke that he saw it. I joked “I got a book deal because of Twitter.”
Y’all. Do you know how many tweets get tweeted every day? For my blog post to resonate so much that it went viral, and for it to fall into the lap of a book agent, and for me to get a book deal from working with that agent IS NOT A FLUKE OR ACCIDENT.
If the blog sucked, it wouldn’t go viral. If I hadn’t auto-posted it to Twitter, it could have gotten there anyway. If the proposal was bad, I wouldn’t have gotten an offer on the book.
The fact that it was “easy” was not an accident. It was synchronicity. It was being in the right place at the right time. It was sharing my message and surrendering to the universe.
I want to write more books. How can I write more books if I think I need to somehow engineer the perfect storm of accidental chain reactions to be successful? Far easier to simply work on my craft, share great ideas, and write my little writer butt off.
Unhelpful writing thought 3: I’ve changed, so I can’t talk about my book now
This one has been the worst offender. I wrote Gaslighting in 2018 and it is a reflection of my thoughts and experiences at that point in time.
As human beings tend to do, I have changed my opinions on some things since then. And this has been an enormous roadblock for me to talk about my book.
I have felt shame. Big, stinky, icky shame. Because I didn’t get it right in the book, so how can I promote it? Knowing it isn’t a reflection of myself as I am today?
I had to face this fear. Because I knew I couldn’t lead my clients, a cohort of nine writers, through this fear if I hadn’t faced it myself. What could I say if they asked me what to do if they wrote something they later regretted? Just never talk about it? Pretend it didn’t happen? Don’t ever be proud of it?
My writers are creating MIRACLES. That’s what every single book being written in this program is: a miracle. An example of these folks showing up for their stories and being willing to share them — first in our group, and later with the world. That is magic. That is sacred work. That is so important.
And I felt like a hypocrite seeing the miracle in their work and refusing to see the miracle in mine.
So last week, I read Gaslighting cover to cover. I expected to cringe, to roll my eyes, to feel bad about myself. But something incredible happened: I was laughing, smiling, underlining and circling, nodding along, and feeling proud.
EVEN THOUGH THERE ARE PARTS OF THIS BOOK I WOULD CHANGE… It is a miracle. It is magical. It is sacred.
I’m not hiding from this book anymore. And I’ll tell you right now how I’ve changed:
- 2018 me was very pro Dave Ramsey. 2023 me is not. I think he’s a pompous, classist, racist dick who has no nuance in his approach to financial advice and has no grasp of systemic poverty.
- 2018 me was deeply entrenched in diet culture and had an eating disorder. 2019 me was able to edit the diet and fitness chapter, but 2023 me wishes she did a little more editing. The book uses the term “obesity epidemic,” which I would now never say. It promotes a sense of clean eating and talks down on sugar and simple carbs. I would take a more HAES approach now and would have a lot more to say about medical and societal fatphobia.
- 2018 me was scared to be criticized, and my book drew criticism anyway. Mostly from people who didn’t read it. I wrote “I’m not anti-capitalist.” Yes, I am. Capitalism is the problem. The oppression is part of it.
- 2018 me said I was a cis woman who passes for straight. 2023 me says “Honey, that’s adorable.” You can spot the gay on me from a mile away.
Long story short: EMBRACE YOUR OLD SELF. They know some stuff. And they are a great place to reflect on how far you’ve come, and the power of consistency and showing up for your craft over the years.
PS. You can buy my book here, and join the wait list for the next cohort of the Working Title Writing Incubator here.
One thought on “3 Unhelpful thoughts about writing”
It’s good to be in the moment, but always embrace our past self, for that is a bigger part of us than the now moment we occupy and has built the wisdom we have now.