“There is only one way I know I am done writing: when I am holding the finished hardcover in my hands for the first time and it is finally crystal clear that begging for a comma to be removed on page 134 will eventually, ultimately, mercifully do me no good.”Anonymous author
As Kate Winslet once said, I’ll never let go, Jack. It doesn’t matter if your name is Jack, Jill or Peter. We all want to hold on. Especially when it comes to our creative work.
You could spend weeks, months, even years, editing and rewriting a creative piece — it never feels quite finished, does it? This is certainly the case for me. I have spent months polishing a play that I have been writing as part of my degree, and though I will be glad to say goodbye to the stress and sleepless nights it has caused, I know I will miss it terribly.
Not only will I miss it because I am sure to later find a section of dialogue where I could have inserted an extra exclamation mark, but also because having something to work towards gives you a sense of purpose. I don’t want to let go, and yet, I must. And so must you. With the following steps, I hope it makes the process of letting go of your finalised creative work easier.
1. Accept it
The first step is always acceptance. Consider what you set out to achieve at the start of your creative process. Have you achieved your aims? Have you incorporated feedback? Well, what more can you do? If you can accept that you’ve fulfilled all you intended to in your work, and you find enjoyment in reading it, then accept it as it is. Sure, it’s scary sending your work off to a publisher or to a lecturer, but if you can no longer rewrite the piece — let it be free.
2. Stick to deadlines, no matter what
Life is full of deadlines — and this is usually for a good reason. They allow us to maintain structure and stay focused. Without deadlines, you could write yourself into a hole — never to be seen again. I find that setting small milestones along the way help to boost morale. Every check point you meet is a small win and there is nothing better than celebrating your achievements with a glass of wine or bar of fancy chocolate. Knowing a reward and sense of accomplishment come with meeting a deadline encourages you to keep working. And once you’ve finally made it to the final deadline, know it is time to put the pen down and submit. You did it.
If you are really struggling to let your work go, have a conversation with yourself. Light some candles and play relaxing music: it’s debriefing time. Consider how you have grown as a writer throughout the creative process and what you now know to do differently in your next piece. Reflect on your work — this is the only way to learn and grow. Once you remember how far you’ve come, you’ll feel more confident in letting your piece go and moving onto fulfilling your next goal.
4. You cannot do any more
Some writers never tire of their work. Some could spend the rest of their days writing up new characters or further developing dialogue. Others, however, lose interest at a certain point. This point, for me, is when you’ve already completed a handful of rewrites. Your first draft is always full of excitement: where will the plot go? Who will my characters meet along the way? The fun comes from the prospect of improving your work and introducing new concepts along the way. In the early stages, you find progress in every page and derive pleasure from highlighting sections to be reworked. As time goes by, it can become boring. There are less and less edits to be made and you are rereading the same pages over and over. Once you get to this point, submit it. For your own sake.
5. What is the worst that can happen?
Often, it is fear that holds us back — but what is the worst that could really happen after you let go of your work? An agent may say no, you receive some harsh feedback, or you achieve a lower grade than you were expecting. This stings, but it develops you as a writer. Sure, if you never submit you’ll never have to face rejection or criticism, but you will also close the door for acceptance and celebration. You have to bite the bullet.
6. Take a break and revisit the project
If you spend too long on something, before you know it, you don’t even know what you’re reading anymore. You can end up spiralling, believing your work to be the worst creation known to man. It’s clear at this point that you need to take a break. Either pass the work along to someone for final feedback, or leave the piece completely alone for a short period. You will come back refreshed and with a new perspective. You’ll enjoy your piece for the witty dialogue and clever characterisation because it will feel fresh to read. Once you have reminded yourself of your creative genius, submit the work before you spiral again.
7. Welcome feedback
It can be scary letting go of your work for others to comment. After all, our creative work is a slice of ourselves; our vulnerabilities; our hopes. It hurts when someone dislikes your main character because of their habit of laughing as they say something serious — a trait which you modelled off yourself. But ultimately, without feedback you cannot improve. Without improvement you cannot be proud of how far you’ve come as a writer. If you’re ready to submit, but holding back for fear, just remember that you aren’t simply passing over your hard work but welcoming new perspectives and ideas.
8. Learn when to make a compromise and sacrifice for a higher goal
Letting go isn’t something you only do at the end of a project, but continuously along the way. As you receive feedback or come up with new ideas, you have to edit your work. Sometimes, you have to edit out aspects of your work that you love. Whether this is a character, a beautifully written description or even the title, if it doesn’t fit into the bigger picture of your piece: you have to let it go. You aren’t giving up on your ideas or on your creativity, but accepting that you must make sacrifices in your work in order to reach your end goal.
Throughout a creative process, the act of letting go is significant: it allows your creativity to flourish, for you to edit from a detached standpoint and, finally, for you to submit your work. Taking the leap and letting go can be daunting, but it is important to know when to put the pen down or to close your laptop. Who knows, maybe you’ll find inspiration in letting go and find yourself writing a whole new novel on it…
Do you struggle with letting go of your work? Is there another step you take to overcome this? We’d love to know in the comments below!
Schmidt, M. (2015) How Do You Know When You’re Done Writing. Penguin Random House [Online] Available at: https://authornews.penguinrandomhouse.com/how-do-you-know-when-youre-done-writing/
About the author
Lana McIvor is currently reading English Literature with Creative Writing at the University of Surrey and holds a special interest in romance and drama novels and writing comedic stage-plays. This is her first year with the festival as she takes the position of head writer. When not writing, Lana can be found playing with new recipes in her kitchen.