Separation Anxiety

You finally type The End. You can now take that shower you’ve been promising yourself. You can have a leisurely coffee and start on that pile of saved newspapers. You stumble to the kitchen and trip over something. You discover that you’re sharing the premises with another person. You may even take time to talk to him or her. You find this encounter to be surprisingly pleasant.

Then it hits you. The consequences. You must send your precious child out into the cold, cruel world where it will not be loved as you have loved it, where it will be met with either indifference on the one hand or will undergo severe scrutiny on the other, where it is sure to be misunderstood. You are thrown into a state of emotional chaos.

Until now your novel has been a masterpiece in your own mind, another War and Peace or Catcher in the Rye or I, Robot, whatever your genre. But will others know that it’s a work of genius? Strangers, likely recent graduates of university English departments, who know nothing about real literature.

Yet, if you want to share your work or are curious about how an editor might view it or simply just want to get the damn thing off your desk, you must send it off.

The solution is obvious. In art as in life, you have to distance yourself from your creation. But, as with so much else, this is easier said than done.

You lecture yourself – you’ve done all you can do, now it is up to the work, sink or swim. You question yourself – what’s to go wrong? You have produced an intelligent, smart, insightful, entertaining piece of writing. You’ve given it the basic tools of survival – impeccable grammar, spelling, sentence structure. You’ve controlled what you can control.

Your novel is ready to go but are you ready to let it go? Alice Munroe in one of her short stories talks about bearing the humiliation of being a writer. Bearing the pain of letting go is also a prerequisite.

Some writers solve the problem by never finishing. Every day they go to their writing place and cozily settle down into a warm bath of words, where the familiar beckons like the sirens of Odysseus to distract them from their journey.

Some dare to type ‘the end’ then put it away in a box under the bed to await posthumous fame like a Kafka. But are they being fair to their novel? Maybe it wants to take its chances. Maybe it wants to measure itself against the world. Maybe it wants to be the novel it was meant to be.

You talk to yourself and try to figure out your anxiety. You decide that this separation of you and your work is like a death, your death. Your life is written into the work, certainly your mental life, your life of the imagination, but also your ordinary existence. While you were writing your novel, for years maybe, your real life was happening. You may have birthed or fathered a child, got married, got divorced, got a promotion at your day job, experienced the death of loved ones. All the events that took place while you were involved with your novel, all the people you knew and loved, your moods, your thoughts, the state of your health, your energy on a particular day, all this is in the work in one form or another. This is what you are letting go.

It is asking a lot, to say good-bye to a part of your life that will not happen again. To say good-bye to a part of yourself that will not happen again.

In the end you let your novel go because you know you must. You can only go forward not backward, and to stay in one place is a backward move. You know you have to let go of the past in order to have a future. You want a future because you sense that another adventure, another part of yourself, maybe even a better part, is waiting for you there.

 

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