I’ve been thinking a lot lately about timing. Specifically, the timing involved in releasing our artistic work into the world. This may arise from the fact that after nearly two years I am still wrestling with the second part of ‘Three Weddings and an Explosion’, one of my johnlock stories.
My natural writing process is to write a story and then let it sit for a while. There’s no set time limit in my head. I just like to let it ‘cook’ for a bit. Then I can go back to it, and edit with a fresh eye. By then, I feel so much less attached. I can pick out most of the typos, and identify the things that really don’t work about the original piece. Letting your work sit allows space for objectivity. It’s easier to ‘kill your darlings’ as they say – to cut or change the scenes you are really proud of, but that simply don’t work in their current context.
(That is why my recent series of ‘Friday Quick Fics’ has been such a challenge – they are invariably stories I have knocked off the day before and not allowed to rest, but published immediately instead. That is a real challenge to my writing confidence, and let me tell you, it takes guts!)
I’m also a huge believer in the idea that our writing helps us explore our own psychodramas. My story, ‘The Case of the Cuddle’ allowed me to revisit a time when I was starting to deal with a traumatic experience, and much of the reactions of Sherlock in that story are actually my own. Writing that story allowed me not only to come to terms with the original experience, but also with memories of the distressing period during which I processed it. It helped profoundly with my own healing.
My stories continue to represent what is going on in my subconscious as well as my conscious mind. I wrote a very long MPREG story while a close friend was pregnant two years ago, work that enabled me to begin to come to come to terms with my own childlessness. And only the other day, when I came home from visiting my mother for a few days, I sat down and, in a single sitting, wrote a 2600 word story about Sherlock’s relationship with Mrs Hudson. After I had finished, I looked it over and thought: ‘Oh, yeah, Mother issues.’
So now perhaps you are sitting there thinking ‘I’d really like to read that MPREG story, why haven’t I seen it?’
The answer is that I am not ready to share it yet.
Perhaps the emotional odyssey of my not being a mother is not over. Perhaps the issue for me is still too raw. Or perhaps I am just not artistically satisfied with what I have done. Either way, I am not yet comfortable with releasing that story into the wild.
The other day I was reading something written by Leonie Dawson about being spiritually ready to share one’s art. About how she made the decision to put her paintings up for sale only when she felt that they had done their work in her own life. She made a conscious choice to follow her own instinct about when she was ready to sell.
This is something that is really hard to do. It takes confidence in your own artistic decisions and your spiritual connection to yourself. But if you can do it, if you can hold out despite all those voices of readers, hungry for more (which means you are doing your job right, by the way), or buyers wanting your paintings for their own walls, you will open an artistic integrity in your work. You will know when a piece is ready to leave home. And you will be happy to let it go, knowing it will go on to do its healing in someone else’s life.
And art is healing, believe me.
When I unleashed ‘The Case of the Cuddle’ on the world, I had a number of emails from readers, saying how it had helped them with their own healing. The story helped me, and now it continues to do the same for others. Which, to me, is what art of any kind is for.
Part of the skill of being an artist of any kind, in any medium, is knowing when the time is right to release your work to others. To know when you are ready to let go. It is not just about being satisfied that something is finished, or about perfectionism. (That is a whole ‘nother story!) It is about being emotionally and spiritually ready too.
Letting go too soon, whether it is because the work is not yet finished to your own standards, or because it is still to raw and personal for you, can be a nightmare, as I discovered this summer when I published a story I loved but was not happy with. It caused me untold grief. I learnt my lesson. The work wasn’t cooked. It was not ready to leave me. And I was not ready to leave it.
Try to trust where you are in your artistic life. Take time to ask yourself whether this is the right time for your work to leave home and begin its new life in the hearts and minds of others. Maybe you will never be ready to do that – there are plenty of artists if all kinds whose work is never seen in their lifetime.
Learn to trust the reasons why you release your work in the way you do – or choose not to. Maybe you choose your timing for purely practical reasons – taking into account such considerations as when you are struggling with a large parallel workload, or major life upheavals such as moving house. At such times, it may simply not be feasible to expect to present work to the public. Or maybe the work is too close to raw emotions. Maybe you just aren’t ready. Maybe it just isn’t cooked yet. Trust that. Sit with it. When the time is right, you will know.