On Babies and Bathwater (so to speak)

Day Nine: Go here to follow this month’s project

We’ve got to be willing to throw it out.

All of it; every blessed word, every hour of blood, sweat, and misspellings. We have to be willing to put it all in the recycling bin if we have to. We have to be wiling to cut any paragraph, any idea, no matter how much you believe it would cost you.

We have to be willing to let go.

Writing, being a writer, demands that we not be greedy. Writing is often a selfish and self-contained act, but being a writer itself demands that we give our stories out to the world—that they become no longer ours, but a part of the great complexity that is the human experience. We nurture a story, grow it, keep it hidden and close as we shape it and shape ourselves into the person who can tell the tale as it must be written. It feels like a part of our body, part of our personality, our soul.

And then, if we are to give it true life and breath, we have to let it go. Into the hands of editors and publishers and then into the minds of those readers we both want and fear. Once our stories have been read, they are in some way not ours anymore. They belong to the people who live the story as they read it just as much as they belong to us, the minds that put them into words.

In one of the most beautifully honest moments of my life, I was sitting at a local diner with my best friend and her new baby. We were watching the new little life figure out fingers and what they do by dropping Cheerios into my coffee cup, and out of nowhere my friend put a hand on her stomach and said, “Sometimes, I wish she was still just mine.”

Once fiction is born, it isn’t just ours anymore. Other people have a say in what they see, they can point out typos and inconsistencies, they can offer suggestions – both good and bad. They can say they love it or hate it, and they get to have those opinions.

If we are still attached to the story, still feel like it is a part of us, we mistake the story for ourselves. And if it is rejected, then we feel rejected. We can get depressed, decide that everything we do is awful and give up.

And take up crochet, even though we hate crochet and the yarn always gets messy and tangled before we finish anything, and all we can make is scarves because really we’re writers and writing goes back and forth, not in loopy patterns like hats or sweaters. Maybe, once everyone has too many scarves, we will get back to writing. Or making everyone afghans.

Or we can remember that this story is the story we wrote, not us ourselves.

We can be willing to let it go. We can be willing to throw it out and start again.

Because every time we write, we become better writers.

Even when we write shitty first drafts. Especially when we write shitty first drafts.

We didn’t just spend an hour writing that blog post to have a post on a blog, but to learn how to blog better for next time as well. We didn’t use those ten years writing and perfecting a novel just to have a novel, we did it to learn what it is to write and perfect a novel, so we can do it again, better, no matter if the first one is ever published.

Every time we write, we become better writers. No matter if what we have done in the past is successful in the world or not. It’s not us anymore, just something we did that we can sell to sponsor the time needed to write more.

Thinking of it this way, publication is not a goal, but a means to the end of being able to write. Rejection isn’t a failure, but a way to know that more work needs to be done, and we need to keep the day job a little longer at least.

But it doesn’t matter really. We’ll keep writing either way.


5 thoughts on “On Babies and Bathwater (so to speak)

  1. Excellent post! Like Samir, I found the analogy apt and appealing. I just cringe inwardly when I hear people speak of a book as their “baby.” I have a healthy detachment to my writing. I welcome suggestions–anything that can help me be a better writing, and improve the piece I am working on. If I cut it, it will not bleed. When my agent told me to cut a hundred pages from The Keeper of the Crystal Spring, I cut two hundred pages, and it was a better, tighter book for it. Thanks for the lovely insight.

  2. Letting go — the art of non-attachment. I’m still having problems with it, perhaps always will.

    1. I think I’ve figured out how to consciously unattach in one area of my life at a time, but sometimes I think it makes me more attached to other things, like things have to leave out. Just part of the human condition, I guess.

  3. I’m not sure how much of a possibility non-attachment is. You’re right, of course, that some intimate part of yourself goes into what you write. And it acquires a life of its own. But it doesn’t really stop being a part of yourself.

    That being said, I loved the image sparked by your friend’s quote.

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