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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

The Creative Necessity of Surrendering What We Know: New Book Update

Letting Go

© Can Stock Photo / tobkatrina

After my last New Book Update post about receiving “Best of Luck” replies from agents I’d queried, I juggled blogging, querying and starting a new novel. It seemed an appropriate time to write posts about managing multiple writing projects. So I did.

In February, I took a retreat from this blog to snorkel in the Florida Keys. I continued sending queries out and started digging deeper into my protagonist’s family and world history for the next book in the series. That prep-work brought me back to the thrill and delight of early creative process: the insights, A-ha moments and breakthrough discoveries.

In March, I had an uncomfortable suspicion that what I was discovering would require changes in the first, completed novel. I tried to ignore the need for changes. That resisting quickly became restricting. The only way to give characters room to grow was to let go of what I thought I knew when I wrote in the first novel.

Even though they aren’t huge changes, there are enough continuity-type fixes to make me reluctant to publish the novel as it is. Since agents want debut novels only when they are as complete as the author can make them, I had to admit it was time to stop querying.

Enter Self-Doubt and Questions

Just thinking about not querying made me worry I was abandoning my novel. I reminded myself that I wasn’t saying I’d never publish it, I was just postponing.

But was this a strategic postponement or resistance? Or both?

As I’ve settled into semi-retirement from coaching and teaching, I’ve wrestled several times with what my new writing routines should be. I know thinking about “should be” is not helpful, but knowing that didn’t stop my doubts and questions.

I even returned to a question I thought I’d answered decades ago: Am I a real writer if I’m not actively trying to publish? Some self-doubts are more resilient than I thought.

That was followed by questions like: If I don’t query now, when? How much of the next novel do I need to have done before I can do final changes on the first and start sending it out again? How much is enough?

For decades, I cobbled a modest, but viable career from writing, editing, teaching and coaching. Most of us know the financial struggle more intimately than we’d like. And we know that when we struggle – with finances or craft – we need to hold on. Except…

Letting Go to Make Room to Grow

Except there are times when we need to let go to give our characters, our stories and ourselves room to grow.

You might need to grow out of a gig that used to pay you enough but doesn’t reflect your current expanded skills. You might grow out of the desire for some material possessions in exchange for more time to write or do other things you value. You might be ready to grow out of an old, limiting story you’ve told about yourself and your life.

Part of my struggle with semi-retirement has been letting go of old stories about how my worth is determined by my work, that the harder I work, the more value I have. I’m letting of the old story that my contributions are best measured first by dollars and secondly by the service and intangible gifts I give readers, students, clients and family/friends. 

I’m blessed to have reached a point where I no longer need writing to provide income. I don’t have to choose between work that pays and work that feeds my spirit. I’ve finally growing out of the old stories enough to let myself enjoy this opportunity.

If you still need your writing to pay, by all means, hold on. But do ask yourself if there is something you think you know that may no longer be the true story or the whole story. Be willing to stop believing everything you think and take inventory of your “truths,” beliefs, assumptions and stories.

Choosing Who to Entertain

That “truth inventory” challenge is not easy or comfortable, believe me, I know. And it’s not a one-and-done kind of challenge. It’s a life-long exploration.

I suspect my self-doubts and questions will return, but I’m not going to go out of my way to entertain them. I won’t invite them in, offer them a refreshment and let them dominate my inner conversation.

Instead, I’ll say, “Oh, it’s you again. Fine, but keep quiet, I’m busy with something I really care about. I’m paying attention to what feeds my spirit and brings me joy.”

Letting Go of What We Know and Growing into Creative Uncertainty

© Can Stock Photo / focalpoint

The work I’m doing with the next novel brings me joy. The early creative process is mysterious and requires a certain kind of surrender.

Sometimes, I resist the surrender to uncertainty, the same way I resist the first few steps into a pool or a cool lake in the summer. But in retrospect, I always love having made the plunge.

I love the subtle shifts from not knowing to knowing. I start with the faintest of clues. I imagine a possibility. I freewrite, I dreamstorm, I question and list potential answers. The possibility morphs and splits. I play with possibilities. I entertain multiple storylines and develop my willingness to be uncertain for a while longer.  

I ponder – sometimes with wonder, sometimes with frustration, sometimes with neutral curiosity – what happened to give my characters the flawed misbeliefs that rule and ruin their lives. How do they see the significance of what happened? And what happened to cause that?

Then one day, one option feels stronger, truer than other options. It becomes my default assumption. I let my trust in that option grow. Sometimes an option is replaced by something that feels more “true” for the story and characters.

Eventually, I know with absolute certainty what key moments are “real”. The fictional world keeps getting bigger and fuller. This is my joy.

I’ll share more about the mystery and joy of early creativity and how to use questions to guide you to your writing joy in an upcoming post.

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5 Comments on “The Creative Necessity of Surrendering What We Know: New Book Update”

  1. Kathy Hopewell September 14, 2019 at 4:10 am #

    This is all horribly familiar! Like you I don’t “have” to write for an income but it’s almost impossible, sometimes, to get rid of the idea that unless something has potential financial worth it is worthless overall. Drowning out these repetitive thoughts is best done by just carrying on as you say, and I also have some trusted books to re-read in these circumstances such as The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and best of all Natalie Goldberg’s books like Wild Mind. These restore my faith in creativity for its own sake and I’m (usually) good to go again. Thanks for your honest and articulate post. Keep sharing!


  2. www.bethanyareid.com July 26, 2019 at 11:10 am #

    You can’t possibly know how much your story is MY story (or do you?) — especially the bit about retirement and feelings of self-worth — but the progress on the books, too. Thank you so much for telling the truth about all of it.


    • rosannebane July 26, 2019 at 1:59 pm #

      Bethany, thank you for your comment. I didn’t know how much we have in common, and it’s reassuring to hear I’m not alone in these struggles.


  3. Debra July 22, 2019 at 10:16 am #

    Enjoyed this post about opening up to creative – and life – uncertainties, while not letting go of one’s sense of self. Thank you for sharing your creative journey!


    • rosannebane July 23, 2019 at 2:01 pm #

      You’re welcome and thanks! It’s reassuring to know my wrestling with uncertainties helps others.


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