If you believe your work is a baby, then you will have trouble cutting away 40% of it someday — which you may need to do. You’re going to be disappointed and in pain when someone hates your work. When someone corrects your baby. When someone rejects or criticizes your baby. When someone gives an opinion on what your baby should be.When someone tries to buy or sell your baby on the open market. Sorrow and anguish will shatter your red, blood-beating heart.
You might not release your work or share it at all. How will that poor defenseless baby survive without you hovering over it and tending to it?
I learned the mistake of too much emotional attachment to my creative work the hard way.
Mistaking your creative work for a human child might throw you off your path as a writer.
At the beginning of 2018, I sent two drafts to major publications. I spent weeks bleeding at the keyboard researching, writing, and rewriting these drafts. I expected the world would open its door wide open and receive my work.
A few days later, their responses cut me open like a knife through my heart.
One editor did not just reject my draft, but he emailed me, “Your article will never be published on my publication!” And the other editor emailed me, “Your draft is good. But you need to cut out 40% of your work.”
I was stumped.
As ridiculous as it sounds, my articles were like my babies. I was fixated on my creative work. I wanted to defend and protect it from the world. The pieces I sent were my first drafts to send to major publications. I took it personally when one editor rejected my piece and the other asked me to cut out parts of it. Afterward, I could not write a single sentence.
“Honestly? This should not bother you. You should continue sending your drafts to other publications and allow editors to improve your work,” a friend tried to soothe my wound when I cried on her shoulders.
“How would you feel if you work for weeks bleeding at the keyboard only to have someone shred your work to worthless pieces?” I shouted at my friend.
“I know you want to become a good writer,” she replied. “You should learn to let go of your emotional attachment to your creative work.”
Her answer contradicted every creative instinct I had.
Let go of my attachment to my creative work?
Since then, I’ve learned how my friend’s advice is insightful.
When people are too emotionally attached to their creative work, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity.
Sometimes a creative work is so personal that we are not yet ready to let it go. Sometimes a creative work may take on a life of its own and shock and surprise us at its beauty. These are difficult to let go of.And sometimes we try to make a living from our creative work, only to discover we’ve become emotionally attached to our work and can’t let it go.
Emotional attachment is not black and white.
When you are engaged and fully present, you create something good.
Too much emotional attachment can have the opposite effect.
It might make you stop creating. It might make you hesitate at the keyboard. It might make it difficult for you to pick up a pen and write. It might make you shudder when you want to click on the green ‘publish’ button.
And worse, it might close your heart to the beauty of writing.
Like I turned my back on writing after getting rejected, as if I had fallen out of love with writing.
I still loved writing. But a loss of creative work I loved like a baby was piercing my heart. I could not create for 6 months after I received the rejection email. The world has turned its back to something I worked on for weeks. I fought off the weight pressing down on my chest. I cried on my boyfriend’s shoulders every night, remembering the rejection letter word by word. No need to open the email. I knew it by heart, “Your draft is rejected.”
Someone has taken my child and crushed its dreams.
When you’re too attached to your creative work, danger lurks.
Danger in letting your creative work become all of who you are.
At psych central, one therapist put it beautifully,
“We link our behavior, our performance, our productivity, with our self-worth.”
It sounds silly, but when an editor rejected my work, it felt like he rejected me, as a person. Part of my soul/personality was crushed. I felt like losing my entire identity.
Being too emotionally attached can have drawbacks, even when your creative work is going well.It’s harder to accept useful feedback or criticism.
Author and professor, Elizabeth R. Thornton, in her book, The Objective Leader: How to Leverage the Power of Seeing Things as They Are, makes the case for objectivity. At one time, her business was so bound to her self-worth that when the business started to fail, she was in denial. By the time she could see what was happening, she writes, it had cost her nearly a million dollars.
Like Thornton, those of us who take our creative work so seriously have trouble detaching our emotions from reality. When an editor or a friend criticizes our work, we wallow in self-doubt for days, weeks, and months. Our self-esteem abandons us.
Oh, yes, too much emotional attachment shoves our work in a box.
If you are a creative person, if you are a person with a deep emotional hunger to take your creativity far, then learn to let go. If you don’t learn to detach from a creative work you love, you might wallow in self-doubt for years. You might never open that box holding your creative dreams inside. In my case, one of my drafts was probably terrible, and the other needed to be improved, but I couldn’t see that, because I was too attached to my creative work.
The solution isn’t to detach from your creative work completely — it’s simply to recognize when you’re too attached.
Objective thinking is necessary.
If you learn to let go of your work, your creativity relaxes, too. This is because you’re not wrapped up in why someone hates your creative work.
Also, too much emotional attachment clouds any areas you need to work on. Objectivity helps you to hone your skills.
Research supports this:
In a 2014 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers tested how subjects performed a problem-solving task, depending on their emotions.
“Participants in negative mood performed worse than participants in a positive mood, but both groups were outperformed by people with a neutral mood,” the abstract concluded.
Emotions can be our allies or enemies depending on our attachment. The best thing you can do as a creator is to be neutral about your work. Yes, love the creative process. Love your creative work: your article, book, or memoir. Pour your heart into it. But letting your heart crack in its entirety every time someone does something you don’t like to your creative work hurts you and your creativity.
People’s opinions, comments, likes, and dislikes are none of your business.
What I should have done when I received the rejection email was to put the hurtful response away and get back to work. Instead, I spent the next 6 months wallowing in self-doubt.
Let people have their opinions on your creative work. More than that — let people criticize or reject your work, just as you and I are in love with our creative work. But never mistake your work for a human child.
The only sane way to develop your writing skills and become a good writer is to let go of your attachment to your creative work. Stop trying to control how the world should receive your work. Any positive or negative reaction to your work does not belong to you. An article you did not expect to go viral may go viral. A creative work you published while bleeding at your keyboard might get rejected. If you don’t learn to deal with disappointment when someone rejects your work, you will stop creating.
How the world receives your creative work does not have much to do with you.
You can only be in charge of producing the work itself. That’s a hard enough job.
Refuse to take on additional jobs, such as trying to protect your work from the world hurting it.
When I look back on 2018, I shudder at what I almost lost. Thank God I didn’t let my emotional attachment become my undoing. What a sad and self-destructive act of martyrdom that would have been, to have rendered my writing to its death. Instead, I put my trust in creativity.I’ve been writing non-stop for three years now, and I mentor other writers too. Believe me, when I tell you, you shouldn’t mistake your creative work for a human child. Please learn to create and let go. As I write this article, for instance, I write with love and passion. I write because I enjoy writing. But after I publish my article, I am willing to never look back. I’ve learned to be light with my work.
That’s how writing becomes not a grave, but a doorway that you can step through into a wonderful professional writing career.
You can create with both seriousness and lightness. Care about your work because you want your work to be lovely. Anything less than a full commitment to your work is lazy and dishonorable. But after that, let your work go.
Some people will love your work. Some people won’t. Some people will wish to change your work. Some people will try to copy your work. Some people will wish your work is shorter. Some will wish it is longer.
Stop caring about these things.
Once your work is finished, it’s time to shift your attention to something new. That’s how you keep creating.