Letting Go

I’ve been stuck on this novel revision, which is genuinely not a lot of work and could be wrapped up in a month, for over half a year now. It’s not a question of not knowing what to do next or being stumped by a creative problem. I know what to do. I have a plan beautifully laid out in multicoloured sticky notes on my wall. I’m just not doing it.

It’s not that I don’t have time, although certainly, there have been some life events taking up time and mental energy over the last few months. But not an entire six months of time.

I am this. close. And doing fuck all.

I have been telling myself that it’s just resistance. I know a lot about resistance; I teach people about resistance. But the other day, someone planted the thought, what if it’s not just resistance?

That was a tremendously scary thought, and I think what this means is that I have to consider the possibility that this book is done, even though it is not done. That it is time to shelve it. Stick it in a drawer. Throw it in a fire. Let it go.

Fuck. But I put so much work into it. I took time away from my baby to work on this. 

So? That was then. This is now. Now, you aren’t writing, you’re watching British Reality TV shows on YouTube.

You don’t understand. I am so close. I have agents who said they’d like to see it after I revise. And it’s not much work. It really, truly, genuninely is not much work.

Yeah, but you’re not doing any of the work. You could have finished this last year.

But maybe if I just finish this revision, I can put it aside then. Just one small push, send it out one last time, and then call it done. 

How many last times do you have in you? You said you were out of last revisions three revisions ago. Did you ever consider that you really are done?

But I’m so close. I could have a book. I could have that physical proof that I really am a writer. Nemesis has a shitty book! I could have a marginally better book. My mom might realize that I am not a fucking housewife. The timing is so good right now. Who knows when they’ll stop giving lip service to diversity and go back to same-old, same-old? I have been working on this goddamn novel for YEARS, it is fucking TIME to see some kind of a motherfucking RESULT.

I have had it in my head for a long time, that unlike other writers, I do not work for years on projects and shelve them, I will finish, this goddammit, because I am that determined. I am that driven. I am that motherfucking bloodyminded stubborn.

The problem is that I am a stubborn person locked in a mental battle with an equally stubborn person, who is also me.

Part of me hopes that I will trick myself into actually writing the novel, except that if I think of this as a trick, it will not actually work because I’ll be all “yeah, yeah, I’m dropping it” but then secretly berate myself for not working on it and not actually consider the awful truth: maybe I put years of effort into a book that’s never going to go anywhere. This is a reality I have to sit with for a while.

And it’s not because it’s a bad book or unsellable or ill-conceived. I mean, I could accept no success. I think what’s harder to accept is not trying to succeed, especially when the path to finish trying is so short. I really am this. close.

My writing students ask me, how do you know when a story is done? And my answer is always, stories are never done, at some point, we’re just done with them. Am I done with this? It’s hard to be done when I am this. close. It would be so much more convenient if I could just go that little bit further first and be done after the next draft is done.

I’m reminded, in part, of the infertility journey for my first kid. We were told by multiple doctors that the odds were low, and recommended to save our time and money and heartache by not trying. I could accept not having a baby. I could not accept walking away without trying absolutely everything first. We surprised everyone when it worked, me most of all.

I’m reminded, in part, of my last relationship before my husband. I was told by multiple people that this relationship was toxic and recommended to save my time and heartache by walking away for good. I couldn’t accept walking away until I’d tried absolutely everything to make it work first. It surprised no one that the relationship ended, but I was all out of try.

I don’t know which this is. A book that is doomed to failure because I am all out of try, or a book that might actually have a chance of succeeding if I try a little longer. But I do have to acknowledge, in a very real way, that perhaps I am just like every other writer, and that I can, in fact, put years into a project that ends up in a dusty drawer.

I have to sit this this reality that feels a lot like failure, even though I have reassured many other writers that this is not failure. I don’t quite believe that right now. I am not very good at failing; I am that motherfucking bloodyminded stubborn to keep pushing through far beyond what any reasonable person would do.

Maybe I have to learn about walking away without trying absolutely everything first. Leave things unfinished. Be more reasonable in what I ask from myself.

Even though I am this. close.

 

Out of Time

It always feels like I’m running late, that I have missed my opportunities, that if I don’t succeed right now, I never will.

Every novel that comes out makes me think, by the time mine is done, will the world have passed it by? “Sorry, but we’ve had too many of these lately. If only you’d sent us something a year ago.”

Every time a writer friend gets a book out or signs an agent, I’m happy for them, and yet also feel like someone has taken my spot. That by the time I finish my book (again) I will send it out into the world and the world will say “Gosh! If only we’d seen this a year ago.”

My novel talks about race and culture, but I worry that it does so in ways that are too specific to my generation of children of immigrants, and so perhaps it is already too late for this book, since everyone has moved on and what I wrote is now a strange sort of historical artifact.

An agent turned me down because there were so many other great South Asian writers who’d put out amazing and award-winning books recently. (To be fair, I now see that my book wasn’t ready.) Did I miss a period in time when you could be South Asian and put out something that was pretty okay? There are so many marginalized writers putting out amazing work these days–will the marketplace look at mind and say, “Sorry, but we have filled our quota. You have missed your chance.”

I’m over 40, so I’ll never be one of those “Top 40 under 40!” writers, also known as young whippersnappers. Will they say I’m too old to have a promising career?

I have a young child, and so I live in fear that I will become one of those women who had a lot of potential but never did anything with it after becoming a mother–it’s easy to see how that happens in these early childrearing years.

If only I could get the mostly-done-but-not-quite novel out now, and then I would never have to worry about never doing it.

I can tell myself over and over that this sense that I have missed my chance is bullshit, but the feeling doesn’t fade. Which in turn leads to more struggle on the novel, because if I have already missed my chance, why bother? And if I have not, well, I must rush and get it perfect NOW or else I will miss it. Forever. What a waste of potential. No pressure.

I grow old …. I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

And would it have been worth it, after all,

And in short, I was afraid.

I guess there’s nothing for it except to disturb the universe.