Last week I was working on a short story that’s been percolating for quite some time. The draft I dug out and started working kept feeling incomplete. I kept expecting to come across scenes that just weren’t there. I was convinced that I’d written another draft at some point, but I could find no trace of it.
The possibility of that draft existing somewhere, but lost, caused me so much angst I couldn’t move forward with the current rewrite.
Even though the story itself had grown in a different direction than my vague memories of that other draft, the disappointment of the loss and the possibility that there might be some brilliant turn of phrase or a perfect plot twist I couldn’t replace ate at me. It stalled my writing— how could anything I wrote now compare to the lost beauty of that manuscript that might not even exist? The lost manuscript became the epitome of my writing skill, the story that captured the essence of my writing as I’d always imagined it to be. Unless I could find this mythical manuscript and prove to myself that it’s the same garbage first drafts I always write, it would continue to vex me.
I wasted days in this funk, and I knew I had to let it go if I wanted to get any writing done at all.
That Wednesday I met with some writer friends at the local coffee shop, and as is often the case when you are hanging out with other writers, you find that you are not alone in your issues.
One of my friends, who had just finished a lovely memoir, had turned her talents to fiction, and found herself struggling. We offered our advice, I’m sure it was all brilliant, but my advice in particular was that perhaps it wasn’t the time for this particular story.
This reminded me of a something I read recently in “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. The idea that inspiration and story ideas flit through the world, alighting upon the minds of writers en masse, and that is why you see lots of the same types of stories at the same time. If a writer receives the inspiration but then does nothing with it, well then it will find a home with someone who is willing to do the work
This in turn, reminded me of my own lost story. Maybe the lost ideas that it might contain were not meant to be mine. Perhaps, I needed to send them on their way and let some other writer have them. And so I wrote:
“I am letting it go, releasing it to the wind and to the world. I give it back to the muse. Let some other author be inspired by those ideas, by those words. Let them write that story. It is no longer mine.”
Just typing those words into my laptop lifted a weight from my spirit. It felt good. I felt able to move on.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt like I’ve lost some bit of writing. I’m disorganized, and tend to write little bits of stories and ideas on/in whatever is handy. There’s dozen of scrivener files and Word docs with bits of stories, there’s napkins and notepads, old envelopes with scribbled notes, sometimes undecipherable. There’s planners and journals filled with the debris of my life that are freely sprinkled with writing that I may never find again. Writing I may remember having written someday. Writing that will send me down the rabbit hole, desperately searching through files and scraps and journals and emerging empty handed, disappointed and suffering from writer’s block because of it.
It would be a good thing for me to have a little ritual to formally let go of these little lost bits so that I can move on. I imagine it will also work for ideas that aren’t going anywhere and I know I should set it aside and work on something else.
A Ritual For The Release of Stories No Longer Mine
Take a bit of paper and write down a sentence or two describing the piece in question. Example is the lost story from above.
“The first draft of Theater Season where Paris is over-run by ghouls and the main character watches his friends escape by boat, leaving him behind to die”
Speak these words out loud (or to yourself if you prefer):
I am letting it go, releasing it to the wind and to the world. I give it back to the muse. Let some other author be inspired by those ideas, by those words. Let them write that story. It is no longer mine.
Crush the paper into wad and throw it up into the air. The idea is now released back to the muses to deliver to some other worthy writer.
Pick up your crushed paper (don’t be a litterbug, and if you choose to do this ritual outside, make sure it’s not so windy that you can’t retrieve the paper. Put it in the recycling, or burn it the next time you light a fire/candle. Exercise, caution when dealing with fire.
You are now ready to focus on something new. You are free from the responsibility of that story, go forth and write!