Make it well, then let it go


I’ve been there. And so have you. For so long it has been a little secret that only you, and perhaps a few trusted friends, have known about. You’ve worked with it, fed it, coddled it, picked it apart, stayed up nights dreaming about it, whispered in hushed tones in coffee shops about it, worried others would steal your idea. You dreamed big dreams for it.

You’ve done the hard work, planning and research. You made things. You tried things. You experimented. You fought with canvas, brushes, cloth and paper. You sewed and stitched and unpicked. You crafted plans and filled in every detail. You erased the plans, or threw them away. You started again. You wanted to believe that you did your best. You woke in the night and realised you could do better. You started again the next day. You tested out the ideas, you packaged and prototyped, worked and slept and fixed and fiddled, retested and worked and edited and worked and worked and worked.

And at some point you realised that this thing you’ve created must leave its secret nest. It must leave the safety of your hands. It must be unveiled. After all, it can’t take flight unless you let it go.

And at some point you realised that this thing you’ve created must leave its secret nest. It must leave the safety of your hands. It must be unveiled. After all, it can’t take flight unless you let it go.

But suddenly you’re gripped with fear. What if your best really isn’t good enough? What if you’ve missed a critical step? What if you’ve overlooked something so simple it’s laughable. What if others won’t see your glorious vision? What if your hopes are trampled? What if your creation, your dream, is let loose only to get damaged, ridiculed, rejected, or killed?

The fear is debilitating. It stops you in your tracks. No more daydreaming, no more frantic midnight working, no more delaying sleep because there is just one more thing you need to finish. You’ve broken yourself getting to this point and now the reality sets in.

In some ways, the prospect of sharing your work makes it real. Is it already real? Of course. You’ve made it. You’ve written it. You’ve scripted it. You’ve choreographed it. You’ve performed it a hundred times. It is as real as it will ever be. But the question remains, will it becomes a real thing out there? Will it be birthed? Will it take its first big breath? Will it live? Do you trust it? And do you trust yourself? Do you trust that you’ve done enough? Do you trust your own creativity? Do you trust that you’ve answered the call to make the thing as best as you can, to the best of your ability? If you can answer yes to that, then you know it is time to let it go, to open it up, to share it with the world. To let it be.

And when you can’t stall any longer, and you’ve procrastinated beyond reason, chewed off your nails, tidied your your house and done all the dishes and swept all the corners of every room. When you’ve done all the pausing and stopping and hesitating you can, you realise that the feeling of dread is not going to pass. You realise that you just have to hit send, print and post it, agree to the exhibition, press publish, make it live. You have to share it with the world.

You’ve been so creatively frantic that you’ve leapt from making to testing, to fixing, to finishing to sharing without so much as a breath. It’s only as you take that final action to make your work public that it hits you in the gut - this is real, I’m really doing this.

And then it’s happened. You can’t unsend. You can’t erase it from people’s memories. You can’t cancel with the gallery. You can’t pretend it isn’t real. You can’t disown or deny it. And whatever happens next is on you. You can’t pretend your little sister made it, that you didn’t care about it, that you outsourced it. You can’t shift the blame, you can’t pass the buck. The work is done. The work is finished. And the work is yours.

And now you wait. How will the world receive it? The world may love it or hate it. The world might glimpses the compelling beauty of it, or they might shrug their shoulders and move on. They may not get it at all.

And that’s okay. You did it. You finished it. You made it. You shared it. It is yours and now it belongs to the world. What they do with it isn’t up to you. And so you let it go and allow some distance, allowing it to take on a life of its own.

It might burst spectacularly into bloom, dazzling everyone with its beauty and die soon after, like a desert flower that blossoms once a year, at midnight. It might take root and grow so slowly that nobody even notices, until in twenty years’ time it is a strong and fruitful tree. It might take on an entirely new shape, dropping seeds as it grows that in turn bring life to new and unexpected places.

You don’t know what it will do. You don’t know the impact it will have. All you have is something on the inside of you compelling you to make it, and make it well. And then let it go.

So do your part. Make it, and remake it, and rework it, and work it. And then let it become what it is. Let it into the world. Stand back and see what happens. Unclench your hands, relax your grip, take a deep breath, turn aside. Give it room.

Don’t go chasing after it, standing behind it, crowding it, forcing it on people, running rings around it with a circus act, three monkeys and a juggling clown in tow. Give it a moment. Give it some room. And then, give yourself some room.

You probably haven’t taken any time for you. You’ll feel like cleaning. You’ll feel like decluttering and clearing and sorting and throwing away. You’ll clear your desk. You’ll empty the rubbish. You’ll pack away your tools. You’ll clean your brushes. You’ll wash the oil off your hands. You’ll turn aside and do something mundane, pay the bills, remember to eat, restock the fridge.

You’ll feel a little adrift. A little at a loss. A little mournful. You will grieve. You let it go. You really let it go. And you’ll feel that ache. Nothing to turn to, to fiddle and tweak and fix and improve. It has flown the coop.

And then, still high on the remains of adrenaline, and looking for something to fill the gap, your mind will entice you to the next big thing. You’ll be tempted to fill that space with something new and exciting. But the seasons of creativity don’t work like that. They must run their course until they’re well and truly empty.

You’ll feel the emptiness and the boredom. It will sit with you as a dull ache. You’ll feel a little numb. You’ll feel a lot tired. You’ll go outside again. You'll wake up to the outside world. You’ll walk and walk and walk. And eventually you’ll sleep. You’ll fall into a deep and dreamless sleep that seems to last forever. You’ll remember people. Friends. Gardens. Clouds. Picnics. Rivers. Bike rides. Trees. You’ll remember conversation. You’ll laugh and make plans for coffee.

And slowly - slowly - you’ll start to recover and feel whole. You’ll be filled up on food and wine and laughter and books and making dinner and the normality of everyday life.

You’ll fear you won’t have the spark again. The spark came and went and that’s it. But just be still. Hold your peace. Go with the seasons. When you’re ready and when it is ready, you’ll be gripped by a thing, an idea, a notion and it won’t let you go and you can’t let it go and the season of birthing will begin all over again.