“Did you cry?”
An author friend asked me this as I recently sent in my manuscript to the publisher. It was my largest writing project to date; I finished a trilogy of fiction novels. Knowing myself and the way I handle transitions and grieving in general, I had a hunch that any reactions I would have would probably be delayed. After less than three years of whirlwind dreaming, writing, editing, and sharing, I knew it would take me a long time to process.
This week, as I worked on some edits for that manuscript, it started to sink in. Yep, this is going to be hard.
It’s not the first time I’ve said goodbye to my writing. There are ways in which this project is very different from other times, but I’ve said goodbye to many pieces of writing over the years. I think it’s important for all writers to acknowledge a few truths about the process.
It’s not easy to say goodbye. Even if it’s just the first draft of a small piece, it can be difficult to let something pass from your hands to the hands of someone else. Here’s why:
Trust is essential when saying goodbye. It takes a willingness to be vulnerable when you share your work with someone else. It’s as if you are offering up a piece of yourself to another, saying, “Here, read this part of me. What do you think of it? How can I make it better?” I’ve learned through experience that when I trust someone with my words, saying goodbye to them is remarkably easier.
Saying goodbye takes maturity. Related to the previous truth, a writer has to be willing to admit that rough drafts are rough. That there is always room to improve. That even though it can be difficult to feel evaluated as a person and a writer right along with your words, it’s a sacrifice that best serves those who will ultimately read what you’ve created.
You never really say goodbye. Your writing will never be perfect. There are always phrases that could be improved. That can be maddening! Either you will want to edit your writing forever to the point no one will see it or you will want to tweak and change things long after it’s been out in the public—living with writer’s regret. You’re just going to have to let it go. But this all leads to a few subpoints: (1) Take your learning from this piece and apply it to your next writing—you never really say goodbye in that way. (2) Your writing lives on as others read it, as you reread it, and as you grow as a writer. You never really say goodbye in that way either. (3) Especially with fiction (which is the goodbye I’m learning to say right now), it can even be emotional to leave these characters alone to live in the world you created without your hands to tell their story anymore. But they still exist—they seem to, anyway. They’ll live on in a corner of your mind somewhere—and in the minds of others as well—as together you dream and imagine what they’re up to months and maybe even years from now.
There’s an art to saying goodbye to your writing, and it’s worth practicing. After all, as you wave farewell to your work, you’re simultaneously waving hello to new people who will be reading your words for the first time. And for me, that makes it worth the effort.