Trying too hard, and the relief in letting go

I’ve spent the summer working on about three different books. Each was an idea that I’d had before, and worked on before. They had all been set aside at various points because something just wasn’t working. Each one I worked on, I did because I thought I’d figured out how to make what didn’t work, work. But even if I got past that roadblock, another would creep up or simply fling itself headlong across my path.

Over this weekend, I was feeling incredibly frustrated. I felt like I wasn’t making any progress for all the work I was doing. I felt like I was trying to hard, plain and simple. I felt like I was desperately trying to force the round peg through the square hole – and that the square hole was also ten sizes too small, on top of that. So I began to think.

I hate giving up. I really like to start something and see it through to completion. I will keep working on something, be it a book or a project or a relationship, long after I should have accepted defeat and moved on. So the idea of setting aside all these stories, all these ideas I’d started that were not yet finished, was not something I relished doing. But I felt like continuing to try to force them to work wasn’t going to do much good. I felt like I would end up just churning out a few thousand words that wouldn’t be up to the standards my readers expect, and that I expect of myself.

So, on Sunday, I began to toy with the idea of doing exactly what I didn’t want to do: start yet another book. I began letting my imagination run wild, trying to see if anything would pop into my brain and scream, “Write me!” And something did. Of course, this was late Sunday afternoon, and I was about to have movie night with my kids, a double feature this week. So all I managed to do was jot down a basic, general outline of the story.

Yesterday, I got busy first thing in the morning. I named characters, and got to know them. I made notes about their pasts, their appearances, their current situations and the things that were going to happen to them. And then I got started. By the time I turned off my computer around eight last night, I’d written more than 10,000 words — more than FIVE times what my daily goal is and at least THREE times what I’d been managing to put out for the last few months.

But there was something else: a sense of satisfaction, of course, but also this overwhelming sense of relief. I no longer felt like I was shutting down with too much left undone — I mean, sure, the story still has a long way to go, but it didn’t feel like I’d been spinning my wheels all day. I felt like I’d accomplished something, and like I was finally going in the right direction. It was a lot like when you get lost in a new city and you finally find the right road to get to your new house or that important job interview — or the grocery store.

I woke up this morning, eager to get back to work, and have found myself eager to get back to work each time I’ve walked away from the story today. I truly feel like I’m getting somewhere now. It’s such a relief to be moving forward, and be able to see my progress. It feels good to be working on something that makes me think, “What’s going to happen next?” instead of “Oh, crap, how am I going to keep moving this forward after this happens?”

I hate giving up, but I’d forgotten that sometimes, giving up is the best thing to do. I’d forgotten how good giving up can feel when it’s the right thing to do. I’d forgotten that when you try to force something to work when it just isn’t, you stress yourself out and make yourself miserable.

I don’t feel that pressure that I’d been feeling all summer. The weight that kept pressing down on me and insisting that I had to hurry, hurry up and finish something, anything, just so I could get it out there because people are expecting it and I don’t want to feel like I’m slacking and being lazy. I’m at the very beginning of a story, but I don’t feel that rush. I feel like it’s flowing, and it’s easy and I’m going to get exactly where I want to go and that I don’t need to worry about how long it takes because it won’t take nearly as long as it would take to force something else to work.

That relief is a wonderful feeling.