Letting Go

Something I struggle a lot with as a writer is when to call something “done.”

My process is first draft, second draft, third draft if necessary, then beta readers round one, beta readers round 2, and then submitting/releasing.

Author X Audience went through all of that, and there are still things about it that I want to change sometimes. Makes sense, though. I wrote it three years ago. In that time, I’ve grown a lot as a writer and changed some of my process to be more efficient.

But, if I spent my time changing every little thing I spotted instead of releasing the story and yelling about it on social media to let you know it exists, no one would ever get to read it.

That’s something that Alexis is dealing with in this chapter as well—specifically with the lingering trauma of the deaths and scars from the different ways of grieving her family turned on her, and with second guessing whether she can actually lean into this good thing she’s starting with Terry.

Sometimes the things we need to let go of most are the things that haunt us worst.

There’s no practical reason for my anxiety to hang onto my fifth grade teacher telling me my creative writing material wasn’t appropriate for class (a critique of the over the top way men respond when women turn them down, complete with a magical tiger that leapt to my female character’s aid just before my antagonist landed his killing blow), but my brain wants to remember “mistakes” in order to avoid them in the future.

Thing is, lots of those mistakes are things that weren’t my fault, or that I can’t change, or that didn’t actually matter. Unfortunately, my anxiety doesn’t like to discriminate when it comes to the things it catalogs to throw at me later.

We see Alexis go through that as Elizabeth talks about her past. She’s frozen in the actual scene, but mentally she’s turning over everything she’s been through, reliving the traumas of her past and beating herself up for the things she should’ve or could’ve done differently that might have kept her from being hurt.

Anxiety works in projections and “what ifs.” When it sees something that went badly, it catalogs it and stores the instance away as an example for later use—just in case something like that ever happens again and it can proudly bring out an example of what not to do in that situation; ideally in order to try and help you avoid harm.

More often than not, though, anxiety ends up just tearing at you with all of the things that might go wrong. Alexis gets caught up in those when she blows up at Terry. Up until this point, we’ve hardly seen her argue with him. She pushes back a little about story craft in Chapter 5, but this is the first time she’s yelled or actually gotten angry around him.

And she’s terrified of what will happen.

Her anxiety isn’t helping matters because most of the instances it has on file of what happens when she blows up at someone she cares for is that they tell her she’s heartless or broken for not grieving the way they are.

Those instances are so numerous and traumatic that Alexis still somewhat believes the things she was told by those people.

Speaking from experience and a lot of therapy, it’s really hard to shake when your family tells you you’re bad or broken or wrong. Especially if you love and trust them.

Alexis brings up her mother specifically, and that’s coming from a place of experience.

My mother’s grief was very debilitating for her. I wanted to help her, and so I tried to talk with her about what I could do for her. But I didn’t understand how to talk with her when she was in that space, and she didn’t know how to tell me. In the end, she ended up lashing out at me instead. Rinse lather and repeat. It got so bad that I completely stopped talking to her at one point. My family didn’t even know about my first girlfriend until that relationship had been over for months because I felt so alienated from them. It wasn’t even because I was scared they wouldn’t accept me (my mother had had a girlfriend before my dad, and we had openly queer members in our extended family), it was entirely because I felt like I couldn’t say two words to any of them anymore without being accused of being some sort of heartless and inherently harmful entity.

And that was entirely because I didn’t know how to let go of all the instances of bad things happening that my anxiety was hanging onto trying to keep me alive, safe, and pain free.

Just like with my writing, there comes a time for every one of the examples my anxiety clings to to be wrestled from its nervous little grasp and let go of. Author X Audience has been a big exercise for me in that: both because of the personal nature of the story, and because it’s an old story that I would probably rewrite from the ground up again if I was really letting my inner editor get at it.

At the end of the chapter, we see Alexis let two things go: she lets herself fall a little more in love—pressing his teacup to her mouth in a way she wouldn’t have allowed herself to previously—and  also lets go of the fear that he’s going to shy away from her because she’s a “monster” as well. I’d like to call particular attention to the last line of the chapter for that. It might not sound like a big victory, but for every ten examples of something going wrong that my anxiety throws in my face, having just one instance of it going well is sometimes enough to fight them all off and give myself the boost I need to try again.

As someone who just got her dream job by getting up and trying again over and over and over again, I can’t tell you how important those little victories are. They might not feel like much to you when you’re in them, but they mean you’re still here and you’re still fighting and that you can try again tomorrow. Don’t give up, and let go of the stuff that would try to keep you from moving forward.

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