One of my favorite lessons from Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones is the lesson of detachment. In one chapter called “We Are Not the Poem,” Goldberg reminds us: “Don’t identify too strongly with your work.” She means here not to become too wrapped up in a particular piece of writing: “The real life is in writing, not in reading the same ones over and over again. We constantly need new insights, visions.”
We can also remember this is a way of checking our egos when we are asking for feedback on our work. I have been repeatedly impressed by the brave students I have seen who have written stories about themselves and their lives—difficult, hard, sad stories about depression, suicide, and loss. These students have laid these experiences bare and eagerly awaited feedback. They wanted feedback because they wanted to make their writings the best they could be. They recognized that these stories were important, and that sharing them was powerful, and that by checking their egos and hearing honest feedback, they could make their stories even better. They recognized that their writing was imperfect, perhaps confused, but in being read and in being helped to make their writing clearer, they were able to tell those stories, those wonderful, delicate stories that stay with you, that make you remember, that make you feel connected, that remind us all of our suffering and imperfections.
It almost seems paradoxical—how can you detach from something that you are investing so much energy into? In a way, it’s like a religion. You have to trust, and have faith. For some reason the image that comes to me is of a railway car being detached from an engine. Your ego is like an empty (or even full) cargo car. The engine drags it behind. It may slow it down. Perhaps the fuel you need is in it. Instead, detach the car from the engine. Put the fuel in the engine. Make the engine the glorious best it can be. Let it chug away into magnificent glory. Of course, I don’t know what use an engine has when it’s not actually pulling anything—perhaps this analogy needs some work. Still, I love the idea of the actual physical detachment. Make the engine the best it can be. Make sure everything is working and in place and that the engineer who is driving it is competent and alert and not swigging from a vodka bottle. Once everything is in place, unhook that cargo car from the engine. Let your writing out into the world and just watch what happens, as if you were merely someone waiting for it to pass by, stopping to marvel at it as a product of human inspiration and creation.
Do you need objective feedback and an editor who will be thorough but encouraging? If so, please contact me!