Letting It Go

I used to journal all the time.

This was before blogs and the option to share every waking thought with the rest of the planet, and I had notebook after notebook filled with thoughts on school and work and of course, food and exercise.

Looking back now I remember writing some of the entries and never being completely honest out of fear that someone would find them and read them, something that would have completely devastated me. But yet I wrote—day after day—about things going on in my life. Whether or not it was helpful in the end is up for debate, but at the time I felt like it helped.

I’ve stopped journaling for the most part.

If I spend time writing, I figure something has to come of it so all of that time wasn’t wasted. After all, what good is writing if nobody reads it but me? How will people know I’m struggling with something or that I have opinions on ALL OF THE THINGS?


So instead of writing things out for myself when I notice some sort of emotion, I often dismiss it and push it so far on the backburner that it falls behind the metaphorical stove. I might write a post, but I edit myself, aware that there’s a fine line between introspection and navel gazing—a line that I’m always worried I’m crossing.

It’s times like these that I forgot the value of writing just to write, and that sometimes the end result is insignificant in comparison to the process. It’s not about approval or attention, but rather getting the words out of my head and onto a page at some point—if only just for me.

In other words, attachment to the process, not attachment to results.

This applies to so many things in my life. However, seeing as I am one of those moody writers who struggles with how much to share and fears the last thing I wrote will be the last thing that I EVER write, it makes a good comparison.

But big picture, it means taking a walk without worrying about the distance or sitting outside without feeling the need to be “doing.” It means not worrying about wasting the time that I spend, if the time that I spend brings me some sort of insight or peace.

Easier said than done, I know.

It’s easy to get caught up in the societal expectation that you not only have to “do” and produce results, but also tell everyone else that you’re “doing” and producing results in order to prove that you’re doing “enough,” or else you’re just wasting your time.

At least that’s what creeps into my head at times when I start to write something I know I won’t post or I sit on the deck with a book. Shouldn’t I be doing something that will yield a tangible result? What’s the point if nobody knows?

The point is that not everything needs a real point, or at least not the one you expect. Journaling, painting, taking a walk, etc. “just because” can help to collect up your thoughts. No attachment to results, no expectations for reward—that’s the point.

This quote from Ajahn Chah was on my daily calendar this week:

“If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.”

So today I will choose to let go—just a little, just for me—and consider it all time well spent.

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50 responses to “Letting It Go

  1. to just be is one of the hardest things to do in this society. The pressure to always be going, doing, striving, is engraved in our minds. How it got there? Beats me. Because honestly, i think we are made to be.. not strive being more.

  2. I often struggle to just ‘be’. I feel that everything should have a result, or what’s the point?

    Thank you for pointing out to me that sometimes, there doesn’t need to be a point.

    Points are often pointless.

    This will be my new motto.

  3. I agree, and I like Liz’s motto!

  4. Hmm..good advice! It’s hard not to try to “be productive” 24/7.

  5. Journals are tricky… I had one for a year or so and then I went back and tore out half the pages for fear someone would read them some day. You never know when you’ll be hit by a truck and someone cleaning your room will be like “Hm… what’s this….” Scary.

    • Yup. I shredded most of my old crap. Part of it was because I didn’t want anyone to read it and part of it was because it wasn’t healthy for me to go back to that place. Now I can write online with a password protected personal blog, so no risk ;)

  6. Not everything you do will get you tangible results. The key is, do you enjoy doing it? If you do, then let it be. Running yourself through a guilt trip, actually, is what’s unproductive. On another note, I had a heart-shaped journal with a guy on a motorcycle and some skank in a bandana when I was 12. I thought I was SO EFFING COOL! I was sure my parents were reading at first, so it’s filled with entries about how much I love my mom. Then, later in the journal, I call my cousin a whore. I was still 12.

  7. One thing that journalism ruined for me was my passion for writing. Well, maybe ruin isn’t the right word because I still love writing… but I feel that every time I write, something has to be published. I can count on one hand the number of times I have just journalled purely for myself in the past five years. It’s quite sad because I used to do it frequently, but now I just don’t have the time.

    • I agree 100 percent. When I spend all day at a computer writing things I have to write, I like to spend my free time writing things that others might enjoy and give me feedback on. Writing to just write seems pointless. However, I do know that there are times when I should, if only so I don’t spew crap here or bother friends with my ranting ;) It’s a fine line and a matter of figuring out what I need, when I need it–with everything, not just writing.

  8. Not everything has to have a point, and some people will find a point in something that other’s won’t, even if its staring them in the face. Sometimes I read CS Lewis and find his writing like this. He was truly brilliant, and some of his non-fiction is really just journaling. Pointless? Not in the least. It speaks to those who are open to listening. Trust your readers might find something they need, because you are so honest and raw Abby, you say what other’s need to or can’t form into wording.

    What you think is pointless might mean the world to someone who reads you.

  9. It’s so easy to obsess about these things. As you know, I do it all the time. I’ve been struggling with this with the blog for the past few months. With a blog, it’s a public thing so I can’t let go of making sure I’m representing myself a certain way. But, it’s also a hobby so it needs to fulfill a creative need. Striking that balance is always hard.
    You always do such a good job of this online. But there’s nothing wrong with creating only for yourself. It’s all about whatever makes you happy. That’s what I have to keep reminding myself of these days.

  10. OMG I hear ya. I *need* the down time, the recharge time, the space to not be productive. NEED IT.

    In addition, I too journaled all through my adolescense, late teens and into my early 20s. I don’t much anymore because of the time thing than due to lack of interest. In fact, I *know* I work through things better in a journal than I ever do even just thinking about them, and my therapist has been trying to get me to start again for over a year now.

    Sometimes I think I am actively avoiding journaling… because I know it helps.

    • Bingo. I totally actively avoid it. This isn’t always a bad thing, as sometimes I don’t have anything I need to work through. I honestly don’t have much interest. But when I know I’m avoiding an issue, it’s probably beneficial.

  11. Sometimes I have to remember that having fun and deriving joy from something IS a tangible result. I’m with you. I write so many things that are so personal and people applaud me and I say to them, “I have to. This gets them all out from my head. I wouldn’t sleep if I kept all this inside.” My blog is really self serving, and I’m okay with that. Today I wrote a mean rant about a resentment. It must be a “letting it all out” day.

    • It all depends on what you use your blog for. I don’t want mine to be a diary, which means I need to get stuff out somewhere else without thinking it’s a waste of time or unproductive. A lot of what I keep in is OCD/food/exercise stuff that boring and repetitive and really has no place on here. But when I’m struggling, it’s better to write things for me than to push them aside. Potato, po-ta-toh, vodka. ;)

  12. I desperately need to read this a few times. Okay, fifteen times. I need to read this fifteen times and actually TRY to let go a little. Sometimes I feel like my critical mind is squeezing my heart in a vice. How the hell did I get here?

  13. I find putting pen to paper at a coffee shop to be one of the most relaxing things, even if no one ever sees it. The process is cathartic and makes me happy. Hopefully you’ll find the happiness is writing just for you.

  14. I still journal. Sometimes. Last time was… Can’t remember. But to write, by hand, my thoughts and fears was releasing. Is that the right word? I’d write in French though. That part made it more real for me. That and I needed the exercise. It forced me to formulate my thoughts in another language and with different words. It’s like looking at things with an entirely different perspective. And that helped me get through the rough patches like if I was actually having a dialog between the 2 me’s. If that makes any sense.

    That and if it was in French then at least my certain BF/husband couldn’t read it. Not that he’d ever understand my scribbles…

    • Oops and p.s. in letting go? Once a journal is full: I throw it out. Never look back. How’s that for letting go?

      • That’s really interesting. We had to do an exercise once where we journaled with our opposite hand, as it forced us to slow down and think about what we were writing. Considering how I can’t write with my left hand all that well, it might as well have been in French (s’il vous plait.)

        I also threw out my old journals. While sometimes I wish that I had them, I also know it’s not helpful to look back on most things. I truly would rather forget.

        • How cool! My Jr High English teacher made us write with our left hand to tap into our creative brain side. I’m a lefty so… yes, the writing was absolutely indecipherable (thank you spell checker) like yours must have been. ツ

          Sometimes I wish I was more structured to where I kept ONE notebook with the things I learned and the promises I made myself – so I could avoid repeating the same mistakes – repeating the same mistakes – repeating the same mistakes – repeating the same mistakes – ya know? Because – every single mistake worth making was worth repeating… Sigh.

  15. We seem to dither between considering ourselves to be a person or a utility. As a utility if we are not doing something productive we are clearly a waste of space but as a person, “doing nothing” and just becoming more aware of ourselves, if even for a short time, is probably one of the most fruitful things we can do. We have a brief time on this planet, and getting to know and accept ourselves is probably one of the harder things we have to do. These “unproductive” periods can sometimes become amazingly rewarding

  16. I started journaling again when I was nearing the end of my last job and things were so bad for me. I needed a place I could dump my thoughts other than the poor people who heard me complain day in and day out, but also didn’t really understand the situation. I felt like having someone to just “let go” of my thoughts without judgement or feedback was really helpful. I don’t do it as much now but I definitely think having a place to write down my thoughts is a good thing for me.

  17. I wish I could just “like” your blog posts like Facebook. So many times, I love what you write, I just have nothing useful to say or add. So….”like” :-)

  18. Since I sent my book into my editor last weekend for another round of what I life to call “soul hammering analysis”, I’ve been jotting stuff down in my datebook. It;s very 15 years ago, journal-like.

    Like you I journaled for years. I still do.

    It’s difficult deciding what to show people and what to lock away forever. Sometimes i like the forever stuff better than my blog.

    i love this post

  19. dang. thinking now. journaling now.

    • I never comment on your blog (I know, that’s lame), but I do read it and get the impression that you’re pretty connected to your priorities and what’s truly important. Whether you journal or not, I admire your perspective each post.

  20. Hmmm, it seems you were in my head this morning as I got up, thinking, “I better paint today, not producing anything for a day or two makes me nonproductive.” It’s a huge problem for artists who blog (like me), do you produce just for you or for consumption?? If you paint something just for you will you then feel like you’re wasting your time??

    I hate this internal debate and have just started an art journal for exactly this reason. The pages DON’T come out so I CAN’T sell anything going into it and it’s just for me. Difficult transition but I’ll be a better artist for it.

    Thanks for a great post Abby, this morning I really needed to hear it.
    Jenn of JustAddWaterSilly.com

  21. StoriesAndSweetPotatoes

    Oh that’s a powerful quote at the end. I used to write everything down on paper and then it got too intense and I shredded it. I kind of wish I still had it all but it started really freaking me out being written words. It’s not the same on a computer, even if you’re just writing a Word document to yourself.

  22. I haven’t journaled regularly in a while, but I always found it cleared my head. That definitely counts for something.

    And I’m pretty sure I went too far the other way. If I have kids and they read it after I’m gone they’ll probably be scarred!

  23. I still think writing for no one is useful. It gets those thoughts that you may otherwise stew over (for better or worse) out of your head. Sometimes you just need to purge it out, but you don’t want anyone else to hear or see or judge you for it. That’s what a journal provides. I sometimes just type things in a word document, get it out, and then don’t save it. It helps me when I’m feeling stressed. The pounding on the keys, you know? My poor computer.

  24. You’ve done it again!! Yet another post where I want to jump up and down and yell ME TOO! Especially this: “It’s easy to get caught up in the societal expectation that you not only have to “do” and produce results, but also tell everyone else that you’re “doing” and producing results in order to prove that you’re doing “enough,” or else you’re just wasting your time.” It is so hard for me to break free from this very limited defintion of “success.” I too have always been a journal keeper and there is some significant differences between what I write online and what I write in my journal. For as much as I overshare on my blog, there are still some things I don’t say;)
    Now: Will you stop crawling inside my brain?! It’s already crowded enough in here with my and all my crazies;)

    • If I could actually crawl into your brain, I would be much more successful, centered and funny. As it is, let’s just settle on being BFFs and overusing emoticons, shall we? ;)

  25. I love this. I have been writing a family blog since 2008 that has been all fun because I’ve just been writing for me and a few others. Writing to write. With my new blog, I love how social media has connected me to a broader community of bloggers. But it also added weird pressure and made me self conscious that I should care more about results. Some people think blogging is serious bidness! Why would anyone want to read about my bunion? It’s like stage fright that comes and goes. But I realized some of my favorite posts have not been read at all, and I still like them and found them worthwhile, so I figure I’ll just keep doing it until I don’t enjoy it. Thanks for helping me work that out in my head. :)

    • Great comment! I think you totally hit the nail on the head. And yes, some people take is SUPER serious, which makes you feel like there’s something inherently wrong with simply doing it because you like it. A lot of people make money off their blogs though and I’ve never made a dime, so perhaps it’s a matter of motivation? Anyway, thanks for stopping by!

  26. This is so true. I am so hyper-productive now. I feel like every minute of my day is scheduled. What the hell is “down time?” Gah.

  27. “If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace.”

    you know? to me that sums it up :)
    have a good weekend, Abby

  28. I’m so glad that you wrote this and it is here for me as a reminder every time I need it–so wise and thought provoking. I can relate to feeling the pressure of trying to “figure it all out”–awesome to have come to your blog. Love it!

  29. I worry about the same thing.

    When I look back on some of my old journals, where I finally learned to write without fear (and this took decades), I see a mix of brilliant and embarrassing work. I also see a woman in the process of becoming something, and man, sometimes it’s messy. Other times, it’s beautiful.

    I still try to journal some. In fact, I start most of my blog posts in my journal, in part because it keeps me closer to my writing soul and in part because I don’t wanna let go of what made me the writer I am.

    But so much of what I write (and thin) now becomes public, and I hope I’m not losing out on creating for the sheer joy of it. I suppose my novels give me that outlet, but I wonder . . .

  30. Over the years I’ve journaled on and off. I usually find that I do the most journaling when things are confusing in my life. I still blog, but writing in a journal sometimes gives some insight that only you, the writer can come to.

  31. Hi! I’m new to your page (which I found via Charlotte’s), and want to add my support and sincere respect. You’re an excellent writer, and I enjoyed this post as much for its message as for the way it’s worded.

    And because I relate.

    Looking forward to reading more!


  32. I’ve never thought of it that way, but you’re right, everything seems to be about results, results, results. If you do something like, let’s say paint, if you paint there has to be a reason why. You can’t possibly be painting simply because you feel like it. You have to have a reason and that reason should end in a result such as monetary gain. Then the painting becomes about something else, it’s not relaxing or fun anymore because all you can think about is the result, not the art. Definitely something to consider.

  33. After years of writing at work in certain forms, with certain tone and voice – and all the footnotes – and authoritative references – it wasn’t fun to write when not at work.
    Now it ‘s such a relief to just be able to write – if it’s read, fine, if not – well, I just wanted to write anyway.
    Love that quote – and your sensible response to it.

  34. When I started blogging, I was so used to editing that I hated every word I wrote. I was so hypercritical that I could barely put words on the page. Time has really made that much easier, and I have come to appreciate my blog because it really is a product of mood and moment, not a finished product I need to fixate on and get “perfect.” Important lesson for me in so many ways!!!

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