The Importance of Time Away from Your Project

After my friend and colleague, Susan Brown, told me I wasn’t anywhere close to finding the emotional honesty or depth I needed to write my memoir, I flew home to California and decided to quit. There was no way I could possibly do what Susan was asking me to do. It was too hard. I didn’t have the skills or ability. No way could I dig that deep and reckon with that much truth. I’d been in therapy for years and years. I’d been working out my relationship with my mother for decades. Could I really go deeper? Could I find the honest, raw, funny voice that Susan said I needed to really tell this story?

I was certain that I couldn’t. Years of work were about to crash and burn. There was no way I could pull this off.

That night, I wrote to my friend and colleague, the editor David Colin Carr, and told him I was giving up on the book.

The next morning, David wrote back. “My suggestion is to take a month off to enjoy Karyn, the grandkids, more spacious days. The best weather is about to happen – enjoy having a body while it’s there for you to enjoy. Take a day trip, a road trip, shake out the dusty corners of your soul. Let the process digest you, instead of you trying to digest it. Love, D”

And that’s what I did. I took time off. I focused on other things. My family. My grandkids. My friends. I let my mother-daughter story rest. I walked away. And months later (or was it a year later?) when I finally returned to the book, I took Susan’s words, “It’s the courage to reveal,” wrote them in big letters and stuck them up on my office wall. I stared at those words every day. I took them as a challenge, a watchword, my new north star.

And you know what? The next draft was dramatically improved. My portrayal of my characters—and me—deepened and grew in complexity. Susan’s tough love worked.


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