Saturday, June 5, 2010

Letting Go

Letting go is not a foreign language to writers. I have realized this over and over again at different stages in the writing process. First there is the detox stage that happens as soon as a writer like myself sits down to her research and is ready to fill the empty page. This filtering process is the first step, as we rid ourselves of distractions and clear the mind of other thoughts.

“But wait!” you say, “Are all distractions and random thoughts inhibiting to the writing process?” Certainly not. In fact some even become inspiring material that spur us along, fill in the holes, or provoke a revelation. One of my favorite quotes is “The imagination needs time to browse” by Thomas Merton. Similarly, it can be said that the imagination needs space to move. All of this is necessary in the first stage: letting go of the attachments, distractions, comforts, wayward desires, and responsibilities in order to clear the mind for writing to take place.

Sometimes writing starts in fits and jumbles. Sometimes, but not often, it is a clear linear line. Eventually, in the early stages of writing, the process is bound, yes, destined and doomed, to become “creative chaos.” This is the glorious stage of flying saw dust, fiery sparks, massive clutter, looming giants, sprouting wheat, and dying flowers. All somehow have their place and purpose for being there. Some will stay; others will be tossed away or saved for the future. But eventually, even this chaotic state of creativity let loose and naked will come together, compose itself through the writer’s able hand, and be put into due order.

Creativity without final order is nothing else but a mess. Creativity finds its beauty in being ordered towards the good.

And so the writer writes. She sweeps the dust over here, lights one fire in place of the lonely sparks, puts the room back together again, and sadly disposes of the dead flowers- the words that didn’t last. She sits back and looks at what she has done. She thinks, “It is good…But the vase should be on the table, not under it, and the rugs should be on the floor and not over the window.” And therefore, the writer is back at work, revising.

The entire process has its moments of letting go, sometimes of the very words we are fond of. Often we wait till doomsday (Deadline Day) to kiss goodbye to the brilliant lines that never found a place. Those ideas and words are the hardest to lose, like an old lover whom we can’t stop dreaming of. But yet they must go and once we let them, we are surprised at the brisk beauty of the piece that we find is quite alright without that old, sentimental line. And letting go is easier now, because the writing is improved.

Getting attached to one’s work is folly for a writer. It can cause sleepless nights. It can trigger war-like dilemmas in the mind over the pettiest of principles. Leave as is or start from scratch? The best action a writer can take is to step back. Only in looking at the piece objectively, as thought it were not your baby, but rather someone else’s kid, can you find its faults…and delight in its beauty. Revision is all about letting go.

When the night has fallen and all re-visioning and editing can be tucked asleep, when the writer feels confidently that “It is complete,” then comes a new kind of letting go. This is the I’m-Done/Won’t-Touch-It-Again Stage. A writer is content to leave as be, proud of her hard work and the outcome. Ready now to let it go out of my hands and into the hands of readers, editors, and publishers. What a relief! Though some in trepidation is still felt: whose hands will it fall into? Well, that is beyond our hands.

And there is the writer again, sitting in the sands, sands blowing in the breeze, the language of letting go as vivid and salty as the blue seas.