The Writing Process: Letting Go

There comes a time in every writer's life when she or he must let go.  Most likely, it will be letting go of the work, sending it out into the world to find its own way.  But it might also involve letting go of something such as a preconceived notion, a story idea, or the way you think your plot should go.

But we'll talk about those in a minute.  First, let me tell you a couple stories.

 

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When you have an experience of deeply, truly, and spontaneously letting go, it is incredibly profound.  This has happened to me twice.  The first time I was a tubby, relatively new mother worried about my weight.  I worried and obsessed and thought about it constantly.  Until one day when I was standing in the kitchen, having just taken on a huge volunteer position, and I realized that indeed, I might be a bit overweight, but at the moment I simply didn't have time to worry about it any more. 

 

And so I didn't.  And of course, you know what happened.  I lost weight effortlessly.  Believe me, I've been trying to reproduce this moment ever since.

The second time it happened, I'd been worrying and obsessing and thinking about a relationship with a friend.  Until finally I had a phone conversation with said friend and upon hanging up the phone, I literally sensed a gaggle of crows lifting my cares about the relationship away. The relationship changed for the better after that.

Once you've experienced such moments of letting go, you really want to reproduce them.  Because they are magical.  And suddenly when you don't worry or obsess any more, life is easier.  It flows.

But here's the catch: grasping and being desperate to let go simply doesn't work. 

It is one of the great paradoxes in life.  The more you seek to let go of something, the more it hangs around.

Sigh.  This is why I'm not cut out to be a Buddhist.

However, I have also learned that while the big, sexy, glamorous instances of letting go are the ones we tend to remember, you can also experience smaller moments of release that are no less profound.  And these, my friends, you can work toward.

How?

By announcing your intention to let go.  And then returning to this intention over and over again, in a nice, gentle way, until one day whatever it is you wanted to release is actually gone.

Let's go back to applying this to writing, specifically, the instances I mentioned a the beginning of this long slog of a post:

Preconceived notion

Sometimes you might have a very set idea of how something is going to work in your story.  Only then it doesn't.  And if you keep trying to force it, you deaden the work.  Or, at the very least, you prevent yourself from finding ways to make something else work.  An example might be when a new character walks on.  I love when this happens, but it can be disconcerting.  How does this new character affect all the other characters?  Recasting relationships can create a lot of work.  And perhaps you resist it. Don't.  Let it go.

Story idea

Perhaps you have a story idea that simply isn't working that you are holding onto.  Is it time to let go of it?  I had two false starts on novels before I began the one I'm currently working on (and falling more and more in love with as I go.) It took a lot to admit the ideas weren't working.  But this weekend I opened the file for one of the novels and could immediately tell how awkward it sounded.  If I hadn't let go, I wouldn't be happily working on my current novel.

The way you think your plot should go

Sometimes you want to force your plot to go in one direction and it just doesn't work.  Release your grip on the story and be open to something new and different and see what happens.

Sending your work into the world

Heeheehee.  I'm laughing because I know how difficult this one is, and I struggle with it too.  It's like sending your baby to kindergarten.  You want all the conditions to be perfect before you do.  But hey, guess what?  The conditions are never going to be perfect.  This is not to say that you shouldn't polish your work, because you should.  But there comes a time when you must let it go out into the world to find its way, just like your children.

 

*Create a successful, inspired writing life: Look at what you're working on.  Do any of these apply to you?  Do you have an article, a query, or a proposal that needs to get out of your desk drawer and into the world?  Go send it out.

**I'd love to hear how this applies to you.  Have you had any experiences of letting go?

***I'd also love to have you on my mailing list!  Sign up in the form to the right and get a subscription to my bi-weekly newsletter, The Abundant Writer, and an Ebook on creating a vision board for your book.

Photo by ibm4381.

10 Replies to “The Writing Process: Letting Go”

  1. Great post, Charlotte. It’s hard to know when to say something is done, when to keep working, and when to admit you need to put it aside.

    I have had some lucky moments. An essay that’s going to be published in April by a literary journal was snapped up after I submitted it, but before that I sat on it for six months thinking it wasn’t good enough to submit. Separately, about three years ago I put aside a project I was working on, thinking I wasn’t up to the task. I think I was right to do so. But with the growth I’ve seen in my MFA, I picked it up again, started over, and my instructor sees real promise.

    The question is, how do you know when a work is rejected because it wasn’t ready yet, or because maybe you worked it too much? No editor can tell you because they don’t know what it could have looked like with more work, or used to look like before continued work.

  2. Sigh…letting go is so hard for me to do, in almost every aspect of my life. Love this post like your others, Charlotte. Always so relevant and thought-provoking.

    I’ve been stalling with a particular creative project lately. I want to finish editing it and complete all the steps necessary to send it out into the world. I allow client-related work to take up most of my time and headspace, and so I have ‘legitimate’ rationalizations for putting off my project.

    I yearn to be able to ‘run freely’ with my own creative projects, yet I can’t let myself let go of accepting other work or obligations that keeps me away from my heart’s desire. The ironic thing is, I probably could fit in working on my own creative projects regularly AND manage some of the other work commitments, if only I could gauge how many clients to take on and let go of other things…like needing to be on top of what’s happening in social media so often, for example.

  3. Patrick, You make a great point, Patrick–sometimes things do truly need to sit. Far and away I see most writers making the opposite mistake, however, hiding things away. It sounds like you are doing great with the MFA, that’s so exciting!

  4. Carole Jane, I know, I know, letting go is really hard. And I do the same thing with putting client-related work first often, I think because its a particular comfort zone. One thing that I do that helps is attempt (attempt being the operative word) to work on my own creative project first thing in the morning, if only for a few minutes. It really does help. And yeah, I hear you about trying to figure out how many clients to take on at at time, that’s an art I haven’t mastered yet.

  5. Very good points!

    I find letting go of story ideas extremely painful. I get excited about each of my ideas, positive I could turn it into something great. But I have so many ideas and some of them are just not going to make it all the way through the writing process. But the realisation that one has to go feels almost like grieving.

    Still, I look at it less like I’m letting go of the idea for good and more that I’m letting it go back into my Imagination, to mingle with the creative nebular within. Perhaps it will return in another shape or form, this time as something which will stay the course.

    I’ve also just recently experienced letting my baby go out into the world. It was nerve wracking to release my e-book. But at the same time, now that it’s off my plate I can move on to working on other things – all those exciting new ideas.

    And I think that in this new digital age, it’s now so much easier to go back and create better versions of our work later on down the track if we wish.

    So no need to stress. The important thing to learn all the ropes. You can’t do that if you never let your work out into the world.

  6. Jessica, you make such a good point–most of us are very right-brained and have so many ideas jumping up and down for our attention. It is difficult to focus on one and not keep jumping to follow a new bright shiny object. But it is SO rewarding to actually get something out in the world, isn’t it? Congratulations on your Ebook release.

  7. I just said to a friend turning 53, who was complaining about having to give up all her favorite foods, that the first half of life is acquiring and the second half of life is about letting go.

    I seem to be wrestling with something that I need to let go of, but I feel like my whole life has been about letting go – that I did not get that acquiring stage (And then to say that, It took me 35 years to save enough $ for a trip to UK and a walking tour of Scotland. I went and had a good time, but 2 weeks before the walking tour was cancelled and I ended up on a bus tour of the whole UK and came home quite ill) One of my friends said to me that I always feel like I must be stung by a bee before I get what I would like…hmm

    I believe if I chose to write a book, I would do my best effort and put it out there and then have to let go of anyone ever seeing it or reading it…
    this seems way beyond my capacity

    Good post. I enjoyed reading it Thank you for sharing

  8. I’ve not heard that before–that the first half of life is acquiring and the second half letting go. Pretty clever. Loved hearing of your experience in the UK and Scotland. And writing a book is not beyond your capacity! You can blog, right? String a bunch of blog posts together and you’ve got a book (with some connective tissue and editing). Thanks for stopping by.

  9. This is so timely… this week I sent part of my WIP to a writer friend to read — first time this particular WIP (a novel I’m in the process of revising) has been read by someone other than me or my husband. And I’m a WRECK. But I am hopeful that through the process of allowing someone else to read it, not only will I get valuable feedback, but I’ll be one step closer to loosening the grip and releasing it to (hopefully) find its way in the world…

  10. Julia, I hear you! I’ll be sending out the first two chapters of my new novel to my writing group next week, so I’ll be commiserating. But congratulations on doing it and starting the process of letting go!

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