Friday, August 20, 2010

Holding on & Letting Go

You know that show on TLC, BURIED ALIVE? Where people have somehow managed to survive in homes that are piled and piled and piled with stuff? Most people look at shows like that and say, "How'd they ever get that bad? What happened?" But me? I know. I KNOW.

Not because I have a mile-high stack of old newspapers and a barrel of bottle caps in my living room, thank God, but because of The Kiddo. Getting her to let go of anything is like pulling hen's teeth.

The trouble started when she was a baby. Well-meaning folks would give her ... well, stuff. They assumed that we would be able to ditch the stuff when it outlived its usefulness.

They assumed WRONG.

The first time alarm bells went off was when she cried inconsolably when I gave away a faded old Winnie The Pooh shirt she could no longer wear. True, it was her favorite shirt, but she was three.

Over the years, it got tougher: baby toys, stuffed animals, bits and pieces of paper, drawings, rocks, freebies from fast-food restaurants, sticks. Yes, I said sticks. Like small tree limbs.

I did what I could to deal with the problem: involve her in the donating, letting her keep the profits from yard sales, trying to control what came in the front door -- ha! That's like holding back the Atlantic with a napkin.

I'd just about given up on any signs of progress until this week, when we tackled her wreck of a room, prior to school starting. Her room was AWFUL -- not messy, exactly, but stuffed with treasures. You couldn't really put anything away because you had to move something else, which meant you had to move something ELSE.

So I hauled out the black garbage bag and sell/give boxes, and we started in on her closet floor, filled with overflowing containers of Happy Meal (not bought by ME!) toys. By 12:30, we'd moved to a cupboard. By 1:30, we'd moved to the original target of our project: the top of her cedar chest, usually so cluttered you can't tell it's even a horizontal surface.

With every item, I asked: Do you really need it? Can you find a home for it? Still, it was agony for her until she sat down on her bare-to-the-wood cedar chest and said, "Wowee! It's like a seat!"

"Yeah," I told The Kiddo. "Originally that's just what I had in mind when I put it there, for you to have a window seat."

She asked me what we'd have to do to make that happen, and I said, "Find homes for some of the stuff you keep on there and give away or sell the rest."

After that, it was like a switch got flipped. She was ready to put stuff in the toss or sell pile, empowered. The room has a long way to go. But it's miles better than when we started.

How many times have I stubbornly held onto a concept or an idea or a character, even when I knew it wasn't working? I once sent out a project that got 37 rejections -- 37! And it wasn't until Tawna Fenske read it and said, "The mom is a whiner and the daughter's a brat, and I can't feel sorry for either of them," that I admitted defeat.

How many times have I moaned to CPs when an editor told me I needed to revisions? Every time, without fail, I've come away from the new project and said, "Wow! I did that! It's better! They were right!"

It's hard to let go of the familiar -- whether it's a prickly old stick that The Kiddo can't even remember the reason she first brought in her bedroom, or the WIP I loved, even though I know it doesn't work. But I've learned -- and I hope The Kiddo will, too -- that you can't grab onto the new until you let go of the old.


Jessica Lemmon said...

I love this post, Cynthia. Isn't it the truth? As a kid, shoot, as of NOW, I still hold on to too many things that I have no idea why I have. I should stay out of dollar stores, because instead of buying one $20 item, I come home with twenty treasures that I have to find a home for.

I've recently overhauled and axed characters (as you know) and am actually working on the emotional line of my story instead of just the outside "stuff" - instead of adding character upon character, scene upon scene, fact upon fact.

And it is neater, cleaner, more precise. I can see things I couldn't before I removed all that "clutter." ;-)

Patty Blount said...

What great insight, Cynthia! I have a hard time with that whole 'murder your darlings' concept when it comes to slashing word count. Ugh! But neat and clean and uncluttered is definitely preferable.

Piedmont Writer said...

Monster Baby and I have the same fight. However, I don't know which one of us is worse. I've save most of her little onesies and a diaper from the hospital. I have pillowcases that are so old and faded they can't even be used for rags. She has every single toy she's ever been given, even if it's broken. And she keeps rocks.

She starts school next week and I am going to go through the whole house before I start on my revisions. Cleaning up and cleaning out. I can't wait.

Stephanie McGee said...

It's like you scanned my brain while I was asleep and saw that I was going through the same project woes. Seriously.

But there are so many other ideas up there that it's time to let go. And I'm realizing this.

It's a tough choice, though.

Linda G. said...

So true. And timely, too. Just yesterday I finally excised a scene in my WIP. I LOVE that scene. But it's...unessential. I'd been trimming it bit by bit, trying to hold on to some part of it, but finally worked up the nerve to just get rid of it.

Then this morning I was about to go put it all back...until I read your post. I'm taking it as a sign that I should stick to yesterday's decision. :)

abby mumford said...

i too find it quite difficult to let go of things. in life. and in my manuscript. i am nearing the point where i have to decide if i should let it go and work on something new or if i should pull out the sell/give boxes and pick apart my story to then build it up and make it stronger.

lots to ponder. great post!

Cynthia Reese said...

Jessica, I've found that I have to stay out of stores altogether and never, ever do garage or yard sale trips, or The Kiddo will come back with LOADS of treasures. And yes, aren't we blind to clutter until it's gone?

Patty, I'm STILL not good with murdering my darlings ... I am glad for word processing software that lets me tuck those KBs somewhere for future use!

Anne, I'm not alone? I have a compadre? A sympatico? It's good to know that there are girl-babies out there who save rocks! My condolences and congrats, because it sounds like Monster Baby is as wonderfully imaginative as The Kiddo!

Stephanie, we writers were all issued the SAME brain, didn't you know that? ;-)

Linda_G, me? Rubbing off on YOU? Wow. I'm terrified. The world order is topsy-turvy! (No, really, yay that I could help you stick to a decision! Hope it pays off!)

Abby, picking things apart is one of the most difficult tasks I've ever faced in writing -- and in life. I'm so impatient ... why can't it work the first time?!

Tawna Fenske said...

Hey, I have a cedar chest that looks almost exactly like that!

Wait a minute...I haven't seen that for awhile. Have you been thieving again?