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Letting Go

It has been six months since I have written anything new in my memoir. For 18 months I drove myself to complete multiple drafts of a story arc about my life at a pace I found hard to sustain. Each morning it was the first thing on my mind and the last thing I thought about most days. My drive to see my goal through to completion overshadowed my desire to enjoy the process. By the time I completed my third draft, I felt bone tired of the project and gave myself permission to take a break.

The time away felt good, really good. And then I realized, I’m done. I don’t want to return to this project. I needed to let it go, maybe for good, but after everything I put into it, how could I bear to do that?

I played back the montage of the near two years of writing. The images of me hunched over a desk in the wee hours of the morning alone and staring at a white screen made my shoulders cinch tight around my neck. I had worked so hard to stay on schedule, but I couldn’t ignore that the hard work wasn’t yielding the dividends of fulfillment and joy that I had hoped for. I felt myself at a pivotal point in my creative project, and my choice was to stay and press on, extending my dissatisfaction and frustration, or walk away and create a new path for myself in order to reconnect with my sense of creative flow and joy.

I wanted to change, but I struggled to accept the necessary step of walking away from a commitment I made to myself. When I looked at my choice through a lens of fear and judgment, I noticed how I fell short of my goal, what I invested financially in the project, and how much time and effort I sunk into the work. But that wasn’t me! I knew that I had gained a vast amount from the whole journey.

When I looked instead through a lens of gratitude and abundance, I quickly acknowledged that I had accomplished what I set out to do. I wrote a manuscript of over 400 pages. I showed up for myself like I never had before, and I can do it again. I fortified my word with myself, deepening my self-trust by knowing when to stay and when to let go.

By May 2023, I recognized that it was time to let go of my memoir project.

In September 2021 when I began this monumental undertaking, my first job in the day was as a writer with the singular purpose to get my story down onto the page. Having never written a book before, I dug deep to develop the discipline to prove to myself I could do this if I set my mind to it.

It took time and a lot of accountability, but I learned what it meant to show up with my booty in the seat like a professional each day. This was a new job and I was going to see my commitment through at all costs.

Through trial and error, I discovered what worked for me to develop consistency. I woke at 5:00 am each weekday morning, I slipped into joggers and a sweatshirt, brushed my teeth, and shuffled downstairs turning on a few lights on the lowest dimmer setting. I brewed my coffee by 5:15 am and lit a few candles, setting them near my writing station at the dining table in the kitchen, where I settled to write by 5:30 am. The tight timing was a guiding hand on my back, indicating the next step in the process and keeping me moving without distraction. There was no time for scrolling on Instagram or reading distracting news online, only time enough to get coffee, scribble out an intention for the writing session ahead, and stretch before beginning. I wrote for at least an hour, more if I could. Most days, the ritual grounded me. I felt clear about my next steps, opening my laptop each morning with a sense of direction. By Fridays, I usually began to feel weighed down by the lack of sleep from the week of early mornings. No matter how tired I was, I maintained my waking ritual, afraid that if I broke a promise to myself one morning, the whole system that sustained my writing life would fall apart.

My book coach, Kim O’Hara, helped keep me accountable to my goal of completing a manuscript. Over the course of the year, I was used to the ebbing of my energy and drive and would rely on Kim to give me a pep talk to re-ground my energy and stay the course. By the end of the third draft, our partnership was wrapping up and I was facing going to market with a memoir I wanted to love, but just didn’t. I felt burnt out on the subject matter, empty of the driving energy required, and overall resistant to continuing the course.

In January, after a push to complete my third draft before the New Year, I gave myself a three-month hiatus from the constant tending to it, the re-reading, and editing. January spilled into March, and I noticed the absence of a desire to return to my writing desk. Finding new projects to excite me, I invested less energy and attention in my memoir, choosing to spend time instead of replying to a client’s email or folding the laundry. I could feel the passion that once drove me seep out the more time I took away. Maybe it was the subject of my childhood as a daughter of two self-consumed parents, the stint in Dad’s business, Mom’s cancer, or my compulsion to rebel against authority that grew tiresome to consider without occasionally taking a short break from it all to regroup and restore my enthusiasm for the telling of the story.

A month ago, my eyes fell upon the printed copy of my manuscript, and instead of walking by it for the 100th time, I paused to pick it up with both hands, flipping through the pages marked by comments for future edits yet to be made. Still very much a work in progress, I felt the weight of the pages in my hand as if my time and attention was tangible. It was then that I felt clear about what my next steps needed to be. I wanted to be free of this project. I could finally acknowledge to myself that I didn’t want to continue writing this memoir. Maybe someday I would, but I didn’t feel any urge now.

It’s hard for me to believe that this is where I have landed, but it feels real and true to me. Confronting the decision was uncomfortable. I couldn’t help feeling like I had somehow failed myself by giving up on something I had worked so hard to complete. In sharing my intention with my husband, Brent, I felt gratitude listing all the ways in which I was a better writer and a better person from the effort I poured into this project. None of my time and energy would be wasted, I realized. As I talked through my feelings with Brent over coffee at the kitchen table on a quiet Saturday morning, I felt myself release the tension I had been holding in my body about the project—the weight of decisions avoided. Although I felt disappointed that the project had a different ending than I planned for, I trusted that this was the best decision for me at this time.

Now six months later, I am on a week-long writing retreat in Collioure, France, without my memoir to work on but open to discovering what might be my next creative project. I planned for this retreat to support the final stages of my memoir, but now I’m here finding myself accounting for what got me here and where I go next with my writing.

Not having a clear plan feels confusing and a bit confining, but I return to trusting myself to know how to respond to what I’m receiving by remaining open through inspiration and discovery, creatively dancing with the unknown.

Time away from my memoir was a gift of perspective. I realized how much we gain by letting go.

Here are a few of the things I gained as a result of writing, and then letting go of, my memoir—

  • Trust that my identity as a writer is not contingent on my publishing credentials.

  • Created the habit and practice of showing up for myself each day

  • Be more committed to my experience of joy and creative expression than a should-do, must-do drive toward accomplishment

  • Accept and honor my vulnerability as a strength.

  • Ask for help and receive it.

  • Write to remember, reconnect, rediscover, and be aware of yourself.

Since putting down my writing project, I have found joy in exploring new writing projects including developing and running Narrative Alchemy and getting started on my next book-length project. Stay tuned for that!

Whether you are a creative struggling to finish a monumental project, or a leader bearing the weight of a role you find deeply challenging, there will come a time in your career and personal life when you feel called to pivot, walk away, and create a new path for yourself for the sake of feeling more connected to your joy living your values.

When that time comes, be generous with yourself. Release any feelings of self-judgment. This is not a failure, only information to work with informing what can bring you in greater alignment with your joy.

Be as committed to your joy as you are to your work. Allow one to infuse the other so that you can experience both together.

You got this. I got you.


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