The Art of Letting Go

I recently burned twenty plus years worth of old notebooks and journals.


Wow. Did I really write that? Did I really do that?

Yes to both. It seems almost a sacrilegious confession for a writer to make. How could I destroy all those pages? All those words? All that energy?

All that energy. There it was. That was why. All those pages stacked in my closet, oozing all these tedious, negative, judgmental thoughts. As a writer, I believe words have power. So why was I keeping all those words where I beat myself up, judged myself, berated myself? I used to think that maybe, someday, if I became a “famous writer”, those notebooks might be of interest to somebody. Then I realized that I never wanted anybody to read them. Hell, I didn’t even read them. Ever. So back to the original question, why was I keeping them? Attachment? To what? My past. Who I used to be.

photo-13Letting go of anything is hard. A piece of clothing. Books. Beliefs. Habits. A grudge. Letting go of all those pieces of me- that would be really hard, right? It wasn’t. But it wasn’t easy either. I’d watch a page turn brown around the edges, the exact color of a perfectly roasted marshmallow, then black before the flames flared turning it to ash. I’d be reading some of the words as they burned and part of me would think, “Wait! Stop! Not that page. Not that sentence.” Then I’d sit back and watch it disappear and this feeling of calm settled over me. A lightness of Spirit. A faith that more words would come. Trust that I was not the same person now who wrote those words five, ten, twenty years ago.

It took me two afternoons to finish the job. One of the best lessons from the experience came from the actual logistics of burning the pages. Just when I thought the fire was out, the pile of papers stagnant, all I had to do was stoke it, poke it, rustle it a bit and every time, every single time, the flames burst back to life. Just like any creative endeavor. No matter how stuck I get, how stagnant a project seems,  all I need to do is stoke it with some fresh movement, fresh air to breathe life back into it.

Once I was done, I smudged my writing space and especially the closet where the notebooks had lived for so long, giving thanks, letting go of what no longer serves me, inviting in what serves me now. While a part of me is sad at losing those pieces of me, mostly I am liberated. I feel I have opened up all this new space in and around me, space for new words, new work, new stories, new habits. In releasing the echoes of who I used to be, I welcome who I am now, in this moment and look forward to who I will be in the next moment, next week, next year and decades to come.

3 thoughts on “The Art of Letting Go

  1. Wow! I love this post. You are so courageous to do this. And so wise. I’ve been contemplating the very same thing for many years now, and even have a character in my current novel doing the same–not burning, but tearing out page by page.

    Like you, I used to think these might be of interest to someone–if not a biographer, then children or grand children, or even myself in later years. But it’s not. I’m not interested in re-reading it at all. The few times I tried, I found it tedious and depressing–a lot of negativity, or a lot of self-talk about the same old issues–all me me me me. Now I wished I’d spent that time writing stories about my kids, the cute things they did, or ordinary moments, or politics, or anything more wise and interesting than me me me..

    Still it is hard to let go. I will someday, burn them all. Your post has re-inspired me. Thank you.

  2. Thank you, Deborah:) ” The few times I tried, I found it tedious and depressing–a lot of negativity, or a lot of self-talk about the same old issues–all me me me me.” Exactly!!! It began to feel like feel like I was perpetuating all of my same old issues, spinning my wheels, unable to move past them.

  3. At first, when I read that you burned twenty plus years of notebooks, I panicked. I have over twenty spiral notebooks from when I was younger. These notebooks contain my first attempt at writing a series, which I ended up rewriting, but I could never throw out or burn them. They are precious to me.

    Then I read they were journals harboring negative thoughts and then I understood. That kind of writing is not something we should keep, and I applaud you for having the courage to burn them.

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