Step by Step


I even found new pictures to take.

Day 7 of 18 at Ragdale, the artist retreat in Lake Forest, IL, and I’m into some intense editing—so much so that I’ve already done two loads of laundry. Those who know me will realize I’ve gone through the entirety of distractions I’m capable of unearthing so edit I must, right after I’m done with this blog.

The writing process is hard. Draft after draft you work on structure, point-of-view, character and scene-building until your story feels organic. It has a beginning, middle and an end that takes the reader on an interesting journey. Then you workshop it or have other writers read it for their advice. Often that means creating a new draft, other times it brings you to the revision process.

We were talking about that process last week in class. (Yes, I actually left Ragdale for half a day, stopped home to see the extent of destruction that occurs in 48 hours when I’m not there, then headed to the second to last class of my second semester at The Writer’s Studio. “I got the printer to work,” I was told on the way home. I was thrilled. Imagine my surprise to find it does in fact work, on the counter between the dining and living room….. More on the value of the room we call the office later, but see how good I’ve become at distraction?)

In class I compared completing an essay to giving birth, only harder. My teacher, Kevin, has a child, and he was the closest to relating. I know the younger women in class who picture children in their future will agree. It’s painful beyond belief but unequivocally worth it in the end. I’m at the point where I have to look at every word in every sentence to make sure it’s not only the right one in the right place but that it moves the story forward. I like this step. It means I’ve created something that works and now I need to fine-tune it. Nothing’s ever perfect so it’s a difficult step to complete. There comes a point where you just have to let go.

In one of my earlier stages of distraction yesterday, I emailed a former neighbor and writer and likened this step to walking your daughter down the aisle at her wedding. There she is: your greatest project, the prettiest moment of her life to-date, bubbling over with happiness while you’re still processing how she learned to ride a bike, read a book, get to school on her own. Already you have to “give her away,” and she’d prefer you do it with a smile on your face as you hold back cardiac arrest, billions of memories and tears as well as a newfound utter disrespect for the passage of time—what the hell is the hurry?

Letting go is a stage in nearly every part of life, and it’s a tough one to face in any situation. Not much is ours to keep and nothing worth having lasts forever. Letting go means you’ve held on to something you value otherwise whatever you thought you possessed would be easy to give away. Letting go is packed with insecurities and fears, doubts and disbelief, what ifs and if onlys. It’s as much an act of faith as any religion. People say “trust me, it’s part of life,” and “you’ll survive, I promise,” but those first steps without something you’ve learned to appreciate quake with anxiety.

I need to get back to a story I hope is worth sharing, one I believe some will identify with and may even help them feel more confident despite the fundamental imperfections uniting us. Letting go of some stuff is easier than others. Much isn’t nearly as important as others. Still, letting go step by step is relative. Whatever we’ve worked so hard for or in service of is hard to release because whatever “it” is always takes with it a piece of our soul.