When it comes to resistance or anything else that stands in the way of completing a writing piece, I tend to push on through. Head down, elbows tucked, forward motion. Even so, there are times when I need to let go of a phrase, a paragraph, or a whole piece. I don’t like it, but sometimes it’s necessary.
I felt this with a recent blog post I (almost) wrote. I had an idea that surfaced from writing practice, but I couldn’t make it into anything more than a tweetable, and it didn’t sound very convincing. I wrote for several hours over the course of three days trying to work it into shape. And it didn’t work. No matter how many words I threw at this, it didn’t coalesce into anything beyond mental mastication. That dog just wouldn’t hunt.
Thankfully two dear people helped me step away, and I realized that they were right. At some point the idea may come to fruition (or maybe not), but certainly its time had not yet come.
Sometimes we get attached to our words and ideas. When I worked for an appellate court, I referred to my draft opinions as my intellectual children. I birthed them into being, and it was hard to let them go.
How do we know when to say when? Like so many aspects of writing, this is personal and probably different for everyone. Here is what I do.
- Put in the time. I don’t give up an idea after a few minutes. I keep working with it to see if I can access what I really want to say.
- Use free writing. This tool helps me access what my thinking mind has forgotten.
- Step away for a bit. Go outside. Think about other things. Taking a break allows for a fresh opening.
- Write the piece supporting the opposite proposition. Playing the devil’s advocate can help us identify where a piece is weak.
- Seek another, honest opinion. A fresh set of eyes and a mind that is not attached to the idea can help you decide whether to keep trying.
- Let it go. If in the end it doesn’t work, I let it go.
One day that seed might bear fruit. So I carry it around, but I carry it lightly. If it doesn’t work and it doesn’t make sense it might be time to move on. As with any skill in writing, letting go is something that gets easier with practice. And our writing is the better for it.