How to Stop

I received an email from writer friend, Carolyn:

Dear CurtissAnn,
How do you know when to stop tweaking, putzing and fixing? I can’t leave it alone.  It is like picking at a scab on a sore!  I read and change a word or two here and there. I have a new thought, add it, and delete something else.  It really was fine from the beginning!  Why must I keep picking at it?  Please tell me that I am not alone in this, and how to learn to let go.

This morning I took out a comma, and this afternoon I put it back in again. ~Oscar Wilde

Since I know positively that Carolyn is not alone, I’m sharing my answer:

Dear Carolyn,
Forgive me for chuckling. Oh, no, you are not alone! I am going to tell you the same thing a writing teacher– the marvelous mystery writer Carolyn Hart– told me: “This is part of being a writer. We just do this.”

At heart, the urge to tweak and improve is good, because you want to do your best, and any piece is not so much written as it is re-written. Also, each day–each minute–you grow and change. You learn more about writing and how you want to write. Your mind changes by some small increment, so you view your written piece just a bit differently. Some days we are growing and changing at warp speed, so just try to rip that writing from our writer hands! We have more to say, and that is a good thing!

Then there is another side–the dark side–that comes after writing, or any creative endeavor. This is the moment where we think of showing our creation to the world. The moment where we know we will be judged. This is the instant that the devil comes along and whispers all the doubts we’ve ever had, all the criticisms we’ve ever received. Every lack we know in ourselves pops out, as we become the judge, great dark robes throwing up clouds of dark vapor. It’s my opinion, and that of a number of writers I respect, that this vapor of self-doubt plagues most deeply those writers who actually are the most sensitive and talented creatives. I’ve seen it time and again. (Although this knowledge doesn’t seem to help whatsoever.)

There is only one way to deal with doubts, and that is to instantly cut them off at the knees. Say aloud: “This is good. Let me see what small ways it might be improved, but it is good.” That’s what I have to do. Words spoke have power and give me balance.

A deadline is a saving grace, as you discover. With a deadline, little discipline is actually required, because the piece is wrenched from your hands. But what to do without a deadline?

Put what you’ve written away. Don’t look at it for a week, a month, two months. In the meantime, you begin something new. Keep beginning something new. Devise a schedule for yourself, if possible. List all the things you want to write and start doing a bit of writing on one or the other. You might forget all about your piece, until the opportunity comes to submit it for publication, or you think of it and want to see how it holds up. Without fail, you will be surprised at how good it is. Yes, you will.

This is all advice I need to take myself, and I’m sure that God sent your message as a gift for me to see things I need to do to keep writing. I have been the queen of re-writing and tweaking, compulsions born from years of letting doubt take hold, and these days being distracted by time constraints and the urge to play with my grandson, so that re-writing was and is a lot easier than beginning something new.

Thank you, dear heart! You can see my re-writing here, and laugh. Together we encourage each other to let go.

Sometimes when I think of how good my book can be, I can hardly breathe. ~Truman Capote