A few years back, when I was hating the process of writing this book and certain I would fail, I sat down at my desk and gave myself the following writing practice prompt: If I Quit Writing This Book. I wrote without lifting my pen off the page for the next half hour. Here is the result:
If I quit writing this book, I won’t have to wake up at 4:30 or 5:00 or 5:30 every morning, my body racing with anxiety. Adrenaline coursing through my system. Or with a quiet insight. Spending my days in preoccupation with the book and the story and my mother and me.
If I quit writing this book, I might break the lock of obsession. I have been obsessed with this story for years, more so now than ever. Is it just a trance of self-importance: “I am meant to do this. I am meant to carry this message.” Or is it really a necessity of soul?
If I quit writing this book, I won’t be living in a fugue state where I have to stretch to pay attention to anything else. I will have more time for Karyn and for friends and for my grandchildren. I will have space for another creative venture, though I fear there will be none if I turn my back on this one, the one that has been given.
If I quit writing this book, I can stop feeling like I am constantly up against what I do not know—in terms of self-awareness, depth of honesty, and craft.
If I quit writing this book, I won’t have to discover the right voice, one that is honest without being confessional, one that is wise, but not too wise, one that is self-deprecating, but not too self-deprecating, one that can reflect humor and pathos, but isn’t offensive. I won’t have to craft a persona out of the raw stuff of my being and then later, be judged for it.
If I quit writing this book, I can stop trying to find the story arc, the character arc, the deeper motives, mine for more conflict, interpersonal or intrapsychic, to create a better story. Maybe there is not enough here to warrant a story. Maybe there’s only two people who did their best, pretty good, remarkable under the circumstances.
If I quit writing this book, I won’t have to worry about whether I’m looking for meaning that isn’t there. Whether I’m distorting what happened for the sake of a better story. Whether I’m being fair, deceptive, honest, honest enough.
If I quit writing this book, I won’t have to worry about whether I’m betraying my dead mother. Whether I’m betraying my brother. I won’t have to search to find the stories about him that have eluded me so far. I can stop thinking about him as a character and just let him be my brother. I won’t have to live with the worry, or the certain knowledge, that my limited portrayal of him on the page will hurt him.
If I quit writing this book, I won’t have to face my relatives who will be angry or hurt. I won’t have to worry about my cousins. I will no longer have to hide what I’m writing from them. I will no longer have to maintain walls that create a protective bubble around the work.
If I quit writing this book, I won’t have to worry about the False Memory Syndrome Foundation coming after me again. I won’t have to worry about internet trolls. I won’t be putting a target on my back.
If I quit writing this book, I won’t be crystallizing one narrow momentary interpretation of what happened, shaped by my desire to create a better story, into THE story of what happened between us. I can let what happened and my understanding of it float free in the universe so that future insights will have room to arise and morph and take shape and evolve because the story won’t be frozen on the page.
If I quit writing this book, the history of me and my mother will stand as it is, in the eyes of others: “You were such a good daughter.” And in my own eyes: “The water ran clear between us at the end.” I won’t have to second and third guess myself about whether I succeeded or failed as a daughter.
If I quit writing this book, I won’t have to reveal parts of myself that I am afraid for people to see. More importantly, that I am afraid to see myself. Parts I am not yet capable of seeing. All the places that are still opaque to me. I won’t have to wrestle with them. Though that’s bullshit. I’m committed to growth, whether I write this book or not.
If I quit writing this book, I could still have the insights it is leading me to. I could still learn to open my heart more; I don’t need to write this book to do it.
If I quit writing this book, I’m afraid I may never drill down to the deeper truth. I will be telling my psyche, “That’s it, I quit, I’m not going there.” If I quit writing this book, I may be letting go of the vehicle for my own deeper growth and liberation.
If I quit writing this book, I will miss the deep creative challenge I have set before myself. I will not become the writer I might otherwise become.
If I quit writing this book, I will be disappointed in myself. I will feel as if I failed, turned away from a challenge, turned away from growth, quit when things got too hard.
If I quit writing this book, I will be turning my back on one of the tasks that has been given to me in this life, one of the stories that has been entrusted to me.
If I quit writing this book, I would feel relieved in the short run, but disappointed in myself later.
If I quit writing this book it will rear up again and come back later because it is mine to tell. Or maybe that’s just more puffed-up self-importance—believing it’s my dharma, that “I am meant to put this story out into the world.” Maybe I really could just walk away.
If I quit writing this book, it will be because I can’t tolerate the discomfort, the anxiety, the not-knowing, the fear, the feelings of inadequacy and failure, the uncertainty, the self-doubt, the inability to find my path into the story, to face my own shadow. It’s not like to me to give up. Those reasons aren’t good enough.
If I quit writing this book, I am afraid I will enter another long, dry creative desert. If I turn away from the story that has been given to me, won’t I be saying goodbye to the muse?
If I quit writing this book, my teaching will suffer. If I’m not in the heat of my own creative process, I have less to offer my students.
If I quit writing this book, I would be so relieved, and I would miss it.
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