Letting Go

Today’s post comes from Chris in Owatonna.

I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.  –Oscar Wilde

I’ve had it! Enough is enough! I can’t change one more word!

While working on the final draft of my suspense novel, Castle Danger, those thoughts built up over the past few weeks until I reached a breaking point. It’s time to let go and send it to the proofreader, and ultimately the printer.

There comes a time during every creative process that the creator must pronounce his work “finished.” A painter finishes a painting; a sculptor chips off the last piece of marble and sands it down; a composer inks in the final note on the score. Then the artist lets go, releasing his creation to the world for its consumption and subsequent pleasure, displeasure, or indifference.

So I’m now at the letting go stage. I realized I can change a word here, switch sentences there, intensify an expression in a third place, but to keep doing so indefinitely is a sign of fear, doubt, and uncertainty. Is the story good enough? Will anyone buy the book? If so, will they like it? And by extension, will I feel validated for spending several years of my life on creating something from nothing.

I’m glad I waited until this point, though. To have deemed Castle Danger to be finished any earlier would have left me with nagging doubts about whether I gave it my best shot. Now I am confident I gave it my best shot and can face whatever comes in the way of “success,” positive/negative reviews, and feeling good about myself. I feel good about myself right now, and the novel’s success or failure won’t change that.

If it bombs, I’ll be disappointed, but hey folks, I wrote a damn novel! Not the most earth-shattering achievement, but at least, I didn’t sit around for the rest of my life and talk about writing a novel. Seriously, I’m proud of having gotten to the point of completing a  monumental project (for me). It’s something I never imagined myself doing this late in life.

For a Neo-Renaissance practitioner like me, new experiences are always good, but seeing a project through to completion is just as important as trying the new activity.

When have you finally let go of a project or creation and what brought you to that decision?

54 thoughts on “Letting Go”

  1. I have it a lot easier than you, Chris. I take my poem to my poetry workshop, and they tell me if it’s done, and if not, what would improve it. Recently, for instance, I had a poem I couldn’t figure out how to end, and the group had me swap the first and third verses around–voila, finished poem! They’re all good, experienced writers and editors, with a collaborative rather than competitive spirit, which is exactly what I needed in a writing group. One or two members are particularly talented at suggesting titles, which is far from being everyone’s forte. Hint: avoid one-word titles if at all possible, and if you can’t think of anything make the first line the title (don’t call it “Untitled”; you’re not an Abstract Expressionist!)

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Congratulations – that is an achievement! Closest I’ve come is writing (and finishing) my master’s thesis, which was a mere 90 pages. And probably not as exciting as something called Castle Danger. I had a deadline I created for myself and asked my advisor to meet with me regularly so I could provide her with one chapter/section at a time as motivation to get the thing completed. There was one sentence that I re-wrote so many times I wound up with multiple commas and no verb – one of my pals who proofread for me and I still joke about that. But it was finished. And I was able to defend it. And I have the Masters degree to prove it. Heck, I probably still have a copy floating around the house somewhere…

    When I designed and built sets, every one of them had to be done at a specified time, whether or not it was actually finished (and yes, there is a difference to my mind). When you know you have to stop painting at a certain time or risk having actors get costumes dangerously close to wet paint (and thereby suffer the wrath of the costume designer), you get good at letting go before something is as done as you would like it to be. At some point you have to do the equivalent of not moving the comma or re-writing the sentence. You have to go back to the shop, put away the brushes and the paint and the screw gun and cross your fingers that nothing falls down during the first act. (Closest I came was a faux pipe coming apart during tech week – it was made of the type of cardboard tubing that carpet gets rolled onto.) And as I told many volunteers and students who helped me on the sets when they were worried if they had done something the way I wanted, “done is good.”

    Liked by 5 people

    1. A Masters thesis is nothing to sneeze at, Anna. Congratulations to you. I’d never considered set painting as a project that could become infinite, but I see your point.

      Chris

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  3. There have been a few long, difficult letters I’ve written in my life, to explain something I felt it was important for someone to know, but couldn’t be talked about face to face for whatever reason. In each case I wrote many drafts, tried to get down all the facts and feelings accurately – and finally realized I had to just send the thing. I have even finally tossed my final copy of some of them.

    Congrats, Chris, that must feel great!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. When I bought my house, it required a lot of fix-up. The wallpaper in the living room and dining room was peeling and had been painted over a few times. It had quite a few bare spots, but other places it was tightly adhered to the wall and would come off only a tiny chip at a time. I tried renting a steamer, but couldn’t get the steam under the paint layers. Finally I decided I had to move on to another in my long list of projects, so I declared it good enough and painted over what was left. When I am gone, no one will say “She sure had a goodlooking living room,” but I can accept that.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Long after painting rooms in our house, I find myself noticing tiny little smudges or missed spots and think, “I should fix that so it’s perfect.” But I never do, because painting rooms or exteriors is one job I can easily walk away from when it’s 99% perfect.

      Chris

      Liked by 3 people

      1. my friend the plasterer and sheetrocker who sprays ceilings and does stucco work tpointed ut to me that i someone else does it you never notie it but if you do its all you see. he is right.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Well, two novels. Why? Both need work but the point was much more the destination than the goal.
    As a writer, editor, publisher, 23 times. You work long hours. Edit it at least 5 times, the hired copy editors read it twice. The techie and graphic designer set it up an edit it. Five people give input. You fight and argue but come to consensus. All five do one last chech. You do the battle over marketing materials. Nothing is left to be done. When you pick up the published material, the first thing you see is an error. So you never look at it again. You start work on the next product.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Why I don’t consider self-publishing: with my background in technical writing and publishing. I know how much my writing needs at least a second pair of eyes, which I cannot afford and it is money I would not recover.
        I left novel number two alone for 5 months and just did an edit. I made about 250 changes, all on the small scale, such as word choice, sentence structure, paragraphing, but no changes to the plot. Stephen King, who I am not a fan of as a writer or as a commenter on writing, says “kill your darlings.” I know some darlings I would need to kill before it went any farther.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Good point, Clyde: “kill your darlings.” Long ago someone told me that Sam Clemens made a similar point. According to what I heard, he advised a young writer to identify those sentences he was especially proud of . . . and then delete all of them. I’ve kept that advice in mind during my career as a writer. An editor who is also a great writer once told me I “have a good nose for detecting your own bull****.” I took that to be high praise.

          Liked by 3 people

  6. Some subfloors require extensive repair to effect a satisfactory installation of finished floors. There is always a little bit more that can be done but the cost/benefit ratio comes into play. At some point you have to stop and sign your name in the wet concrete.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. In the first house I learned to replace subflooring, the hard way. In my second house remodel, for any floor I touched I replaced subflooring.

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  7. First, congratulations, Chris! That is a huge accomplishment. Good luck with the next steps.

    After writing my first book, I signed off at the bottom of the manuscript with the line “Es ist genug.” That’s German for “It is finished.” That is supposedly what Beethoven wrote at the bottom of his last composition. I later writhed in embarrassment when I considered how pretentious I’d been to make that comparison!

    I used to tell people it took me six years to write the book about my parents. For many years my favorite pastime was creating fresh copy or revising what I had written earlier. I’d wake up at 2 AM and rush to my computer to diddle with the sentences while music quietly played in the background. I enjoyed revising the book so much I would have paid money–a lot of money–to buy the right to do it, had that choice ever been forced on me.

    I hated finishing the writing and revising, but at some point it was obvious that the work was done. My revisions were becoming increasingly trivial. It was time to move on.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Don’t mean to be picky here, but “Es ist genug” actually means it is enough, not it is finished. In the context of this conversation, I think that’s a distinction worth making.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Congratulations, Chris. I like your attitude …at least, I didn’t sit around for the rest of my life and talk about writing a novel. There is a lot to be said for starting something like this, and even more for finishing it.

    My most recent Letting Go of a project was my portfolio for my most introductory photography class last semester. Ten pictures, one in each teacher-picked category (he gave us 11 categories and we had to use 10 of them), that were supposed to be our best work and show how much we learned in the class. Well, it’s hard to say This One is the Best because you always feel like “if I went out shooting right now, I might get the Best Picture Ever.” And, with photo editing software, you can adjust and crop and tweak nearly forever (similar to the writing process).

    But my teacher helped me in two ways. One, when I asked him if I could use the category Nature to substitute for another category, he said Yes. That saved me a ton of work, because I had tried and failed to get satisfactory pictures in either Self Portrait or Still Life, so I was stuck at having only 9 photos, with just a week (Thanksgiving week) left before the due date. Second, as I was getting something out of my locker, which is right outside his office, I overheard him talking to another student (who, apparently was having trouble settling on his 10 photos). He said something like “A portfolio is your best work at a certain point of time,” meaning that at some point you have to say, This Is It. I may take better pictures sometime in the future, but this is what I have today. I took that to heart and decided No More Trying to Get Better Pictures, I’m Going With What I’ve Got. Result: I was done before the due date and was able to relax during Thanksgiving break with no worries.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Never thought about photoshopping being a way to endlessly improve and refine a photo. Another reason I’m not a big fan of digital photography: the fun challenge in taking a good or great photo should be the preparation before the shutter is clicked. That way you get a true measure of your photographic skill, i.m.o.

      Chris in O-town

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      1. Agreed, Chris. My fixes tend to be fairly minor – some judicious cropping, a little lightening of shadows, etc. I stay pretty close to the original, but if my horizon is crooked or if I had the white balance setting wrong or if the photo is underexposed, I’m going to fix that.

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        1. A few years ago, husband would no doubt have agreed with you, Chris. Nowadays he considers Photoshop just one more tool to help him express his vision. Removing an offending billboard, for instance, or as ljb suggests, some judicious cropping. The are times when you don’t realize what you have captured until afterward, and the photo becomes something else. I think a lot of people share your attitude about Photoshop, they feel deceived if the photographer has altered the original in any significant way. If it’s well done, I don’t object to it.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. littlejailbird’s comment reminds me of another way to tell when you are done. Put the work aside for several days. Or several weeks, if that is possible. Then pick it up again to examine it closely. If you feel strongly moved to fix problems, it probably isn’t done. If you love it after letting it cool for a while, good for you: it is finished.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Another letting moment, the biggest: children going off into adulthood.
    And another: my computer. local guys did for $90 a cleaning out and fixing of it. Looking good. I can get another Asus new from them for $400 plus a $60 trade in on this one. New one would have Windows 10, which is a memory eater. Seven is still the best version and they are updating it, but at some point will not. New computer will have lots of features, such as 500 for storage, built-in blue tooth, etc. So do I spend money now for new computer and wait to go online or do I spend money for new Charter service?

    Letting go, letting go!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Morning–
    Congrats on the novel Chris!

    As Anna said, in theater, the show opens so you have to be ‘done’. It’s not often I ‘finish’ a set after opening, but it has happen before.
    Since I primarily consider myself a lighting guy, I spend more time futzing with lighting than anything else.
    I’ll spend inordinate amounts of time watching a cue and trying to decide if 1.6 seconds is better than 2 seconds. Or does it need 2.2??
    Just lit a show and I have a transitional cue from moonlight to a special at the end of the show. Sat in the booth running that cue over and over and tweaking it here or there and back and this or try that…
    Eventually you just turn it off and go home. 95% of the audience isn’t going to notice and it’s only important to me. As long as it FEELS right to the show, it isn’t that important whether it’s 10 or 10.2 seconds.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I used to edit a magazine for folks who hunt and fish. Frankly, they tend to be average Joes rather than persnickety readers. It was a challenge to me to draw a sensible line on writing quality. I remember struggling with badly written material when I knew virtually none of my readers could appreciate the improvements. But the problem was that I could see the difference, so I mostly edited to placate my own need for quality.

      I’ll bet this kind of dilemma is something Dale felt. His writing is so beautifully crafted that I’ll bet he is his own harshest critic, doomed to calibrate his wit and originality to suit standards that are more his than his audience’s.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Me neither, Chris, further proof of Ben’s assertion that most people won’t notice those finer details. Although I suspect good lighting can make the difference between a good and a great theater experience.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Given the short stays that insurance companies will pay for on inpatient psychiatric units, sometimes you have to let people go home when there still is work to be done or they just aren’t completely ready for discharge. That is hard to do. It also is hard to see children return home from foster care when you know that they are’t going back to the best situation.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Hey all – Clyde already gave the answer I was thinking of. Young Adult. There were several times the past 21 years that I had to take a big breath and tell myself to let it go!

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  14. A professional writer friend of mine used to give me these occasional little nuggets of wisdom. One he gave me was, “Never let something ‘great’ stand in the way of something good.” In other words, you can play the ‘it can be better’ game indefinitely but at some point, you’ve got to birth the baby.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Middle school girls seem to have a really hard time letting go. I remember talking to one once who was upset at someone and who said rather dramatically and with tears “Of course I am upset. Do you know what she said to me when we were in third grade?!!!!”

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Rise and Get Ready to read a novel Baboons!

    Congrats Chris! A book is a major project.

    Finishing a piece of artwork is always a challenge. It never seems done. It is hard to stop tweaking. Then giving it away is like parting with my baby.

    And then I get over myself!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thanks, Jacque. At least with my book, I’ll have the Word file and a hard copy to look at forever. I’m not a “physical” artist, so I can’t imagine what it feels like to give a piece (of yourself?) away to someone.

      Chris in O-town

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    1. Thanks, tim. No worries. TBers will be among the first to know when my book is out. I promise I won’t spam any of you, ever. Just a short post about how incredibly intimidated I’ll be competing for sales against all the great authors in the world with my humble tome. 😉

      Chris in O-town

      Liked by 1 person

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