Learning to Let Go

This week my oldest son is preparing to return to college. Instead of rooming in the dorms, he will be sharing an apartment with three of his friends. As the piles grow in the dining room and shrink in his bedroom, I’m reminded of the day we took him to college for the first time two years ago.

I awoke that morning, smiling and vowing to stay positive. It was going to be a great day. The beginning of a new adventure for him. He was leaving the family nest to spread his wings. Hubby made a manly breakfast for a new college freshman. We joked during breakfast and pretended it was like any other day.

Hubby and our two boys loaded the trunk while I finished getting ready. As I applied mascara, it hit me—no not the mascara wand, but my little boy was a man now and heading out for a new path in his life. I teared up, sniffed a little, and reached for my lip gloss. Before I could apply the color to my lips, I had my face buried in a hand towel to muffle my sobs. I was so not ready for this. He was just a baby. He needed me.

No, not really.

I needed him to need me more than he actually needed me.

I dried my tears, reapplied makeup and rode the 90 minutes to his campus. We emptied the car and transported everything to his very generic dorm room. When it was time to leave, he wrapped his arms around me and said, “I love you, Mommy.” Suddenly he was five again and heading off to his first day of kindergarten. My chest ached from holding back the sob, but I managed to squeak out an “I love you” in return and smiled. As we pulled away from the curb, my hand clutched the door handle as my brain screamed, “I’m not ready to let him go yet.” My heart felt as though it was being shaved with a carrot peeler.

Thoughts tumbled through my head—I should have prayed more for him. I should have forced him to study more and do less gaming. The “I should haves” lasted for about five minutes until the sobs rocked my chest. It was a rough night and next morning.

But I did what every good parent needs to do—I let him go. It was his time to make his way in the world. We are always here to support and encourage him, but he has to make mistakes and learn from them.

As writers, we create stories, nurture them, and edit until the prose shines. We dream of the future, of getting the call. But none of that can happen until we press send or drop that manuscript in the mailbox.

While our manuscripts are not our babies, we have parallel feelings between parenthood and writing. Writers spend a lot of creative and emotional energy crafting their books and novels. Whether it’s non-fiction or fiction, we become a part of that topic or those characters. As a novelist, I know my characters better than I do some family members.

Once we’ve written those books to the best of our abilities, it’s time to let them go—time to send that manuscript to the destination it was intended. As the postman drives off with it or we receive that SENT window in our email, we may think, “Wait, I’m not ready yet.” But we have to learn to let go. Then we are faced with waiting and possibly rejection.

Just as sending my son off to college is a necessary part of his development, letting go of our work and submitting it for possible publication is necessary growth for a writer.

By the way, it does get easier—submitting those manuscripts and having my son return to college. Remind me of that next August when my youngest son heads off to college.

Your turn: What experience in your life has helped you let go of something, even though it may have been hard at the time? Do you struggle with letting go of your manuscripts when it’s time to submit?

Photo credit: gerbrak

51 Replies to “Learning to Let Go”

  1. My crit partner and I both read your post. She’s in Canada and I’m in CA. After we dried our eyes and commented back and forth in a flurry of emails, we’ve placed your post in our encouragement file. Letting go is hard. Great post!

    1. Sheri, your sweet words encouraged me! Thanks so much! Parenting and writing aren’t for the faint of heart. Both have their frustrations and rewards. I hope you’ll continue to be encouraged as you continue with your writing. Thanks for visiting the Water Cooler.

  2. Thanks for the good emotional cry. Nice job. And yes, we do need to let our ms “babies” into the world so they can grow and shine in their own way as well. Sometimes in ways we don’t expect.

    1. LOL, Jordyn. We all need those good cleansing cries from time to time. 😉 And you’re so right–our stories and books may touch readers in unexpected ways. We may never know the fruits of our labors, but letting go allows someone else to benefit from our words.

      1. Since so many of us are crying… maybe we need a virtual Kleenex box. Just sayin’….

  3. Wow, Lisa, your post brought back memories. Two years ago we dropped our one and only off at her university. We’d had to use both of our vehicles to transport everything, which meant I drove home alone. My husband left first, and I put on a brave face as I said my goodbye to our daughter. I made it to the first exit, got off, parked at Wendy’s, and wept. The next weeks were tough. I’d be walking through the supermarket, see some food item The Fashion Queen really likes, and tear up.

    Sending my stories out there was, as you said, the same kind of scary. Just as I wasn’t sure our gal was ready for the changes college would bring, I wasn’t sure my story was ready to be seen by the publishing pros. In spite of my fears and uncertainties, I took a deep breath that same fall, pressed, send, and shed a few tears. I learned that only by letting go can change take place. Our daughter is doing very well, I’ve adjusted to the Empty Nest, and my/our awesome agent sold that story. =)

    1. Keli, I teared up reading about going through the supermarket. I did the same thing! My son has had some bumps in his college career so far, but they are life lessons that will strengthen him as a person. When I finally let go of my manuscript, God threw open doors of opportunity. I’m still in “pinch me” mode. It’s an amazing feeling to see something or someone you loved and nurtured making its/his way in the world.

  4. Letting go.
    Don’t want to.
    Know I’ve got to.
    Tough. Tough.Tough.
    I’ve done the “I-will-not-cry-even-as-I-smile-the-wobbliest-smile-ever” route. My kids see through it (and past my tears to my intent) every time.
    Here’s the other thing I’ve learned as I’ve waved goodbye to my kiddos and my manuscripts: I’m not in charge of what happens after the goodbyes.
    Scary thought, that.
    I’ve released my son and daughters into the vast unknown of Their Lives. I’ve released my manuscripts into the vast unknown of The Pub Boards. Can you say “not in control anymore?”
    But like you said, that’s what parents do. We raise our kids to one day go on without us. Go to college. Go pursue their lives.
    We write our books, fiction or nonfiction, not to languish in our computers, but to find a place where they’ll be published. That’s the dream. That’s the goal.
    Thanks, LJ, for the timely blog post.

    1. Beth, you’re so right about not being in control anymore, and I think that was the part that scared me the most. I’m a bit of a control freak, so letting go was hard, but absolutely necessary.

  5. I haven’t sent an entire manuscript yet, but I’ve sent a proposal and entered several contests. I really like the story I’ve written but always wonder if someone else will love it, too. I feel the same way about anything personal that I’ve created – a story, my blog. I guess because it feels like such a part of me that any rejection of it, or worse, no response at all, feels like a rejection of me. Does that ever get easier? Maybe I’ll just learn better coping skills. 🙂

    1. Sherri, congratulations on sending proposals and entering contests. That’s a giant first step in getting your work in front of other people and takes a lot of courage.

      As much as it hurts–and yes, I always cry–rejection is necessary to strengthen a writer’s growth. Reading is so subjective. What doesn’t fit for one agent/editor/reader may be exactly what another one is looking for. When I first started writing, my mentor at the time suggested I get fitted for an alligator skin because we needed tough hides in this business. She was right. If you get a rejection, take a day or two to grieve and then move forward. Don’t let it bring you down and remember–they are rejecting your work because it doesn’t fit their needs at that time, but it is NOT a rejection of YOU as a person.

      I do know what you mean though. When I submitted my novel for consideration for representation to Rachelle, I prayed she would love my characters as I did. When we submitted it to Love Inspired for consideration for publication, I prayed the editor would love my characters. She did! Now I’m praying my readers will love them. These characters have been a part of me for over ten years.

  6. GREAT post, Lisa! I have a while yet before I have to let go of my real baby…he’s not yet three. BUT, I sure know what it’s like to let go of my word-babies. And you know what? I think I’ll be most terrified when my debut word-baby is out there for ALL the world to see. Release day. Because then it’s not just leaving for college, it’s married with children. Completely independent. Yikes!

    1. Katie, in two months, my novel will be for sale on Amazon, so I totally understand that feeling. It’s like my soul has been exposed for the world to see. But, like Beth said, the outcome is beyond our control. We have been obedient to write the stories on our hearts. Now God will use those words to spark the hearts of readers. As for the B-man–he will be graduating high school before you can blink. Oh my, time flies as you get older. Savor every moment. 🙂

  7. My son commuted to college from home, but after graduation took a job across the country, 2000 miles away. The day he and his dad left in a U-Haul truck towing an old red Mustang, I went up to his room and cried and cried, and cried somemore. Then all of a sudden, I found myself making plans to redecorate the room into a new guestroom/study! I think that says something about sending out our mss to the big wide world of prospective publishers–and then, without hesitating, starting right away on the next one…??!

    1. Kenda, sounds like you worked through your emotions in a positive way. Once I signed with Rachelle, I gained more confidence in my writing abilities, so letting go of that manuscript was easier. My second book is almost finished, and I’m looking forward to starting the third book.

  8. I don’t have children, but I’ve been on the side of the child leaving home and that’s STILL hard for me. I was (am?) a daddy’s girl and even now when a visit with him ends I feel a pang at parting. And that lavish daddy-love is probably why I don’t have a hard time letting go of my writing. My problem is over-confidence. Of course people will love my characters as much as I do! The sting of rejection is terrible for me because it’s usually a bit of a surprise. My earthly father eagerly builds me up and my heavenly father gently keeps me humble. It’s a good deal.

    1. Sarah, I appreciate your perspective. Thanks for sharing that. Those stings of rejection can be so painful and humbling. Sounds like you have a great relationship with both fathers. 🙂

  9. You made me cry as well Lisa. You sure are a gifted writer because you evoked all of this emotion in us. One of the things that helps me let go, is knowing it is neccessary for the next stage. So many people hang onto the old thing and this prevents them from grasping the new one. I am treasuring my two college-aged children moving into a friendship stage with me. It’s a complicated stage, knowing when to focus less on parenting and more on connecting. Of course, I’m thinking like a counselor, but there are two great books dealing with this theme: Neccessary Losses by Judith Viorst and Neccessary Endings by Dr. Henry Cloud.

    1. Lucille, your words warmed my heart!! Thank you for saying I’m a gifted writer. I think our insecurities and fears are strong motivators for holding onto the old thing. I’m moving into that friendship stage with my older son. We still butt heads from time to time, but he’s maturing into a terrific young man. My younger son is at home for one more year before he heads off to college. He’s becoming a strong young man too. Thanks for the book recommendations. I’ll be sure to check them out.

  10. Seriously awesome post, LJ! Love it…and laughed out loud at this: “As I applied mascara, it hit me—no not the mascara wand…” Now, I don’t have kids at this point, but maybe I can slightly sympathize because I’ve had family members move away…and been the one to move away from family and friends…AND…last year I had to let go of Jack Bauer when 24 ended. So…

    But seriously, great post. Letting go of a manuscript IS hard…like swallowing thumb tacks hard. But, like you said, necessary. If I can let go of Jack…

    1. MTagg, letting go of Jack Bauer is another whole post all together! I’ll be in serious mourning once NCIS goes off the air. Letting go of your manuscript allows God to do His job. I know He has a place for your books!

      1. Lisa, you caused me to recall with great detail the long-ago home-leavings of my three kids, and how it’s a similar process we face with our manuscripts. But these words of yours will stick in my mind forever: “Letting go of Jack Bauer is another whole post….” I am SO laughing over that!!! 🙂

  11. Sigh. In just five days, I take my baby girl back to school.

    Does it get any easier?

    1. Erica, it does get easier. I still get teary-eyed when we take him back to school, but the shaved-heart feeling isn’t there anymore. Hugs to you, friend!

    1. Thanks so much, Donna. I have to admit that I was intimidated to post this because I wasn’t quite sure if it would be a good fit. I’m glad readers are enjoying it…tears and all. 🙂

  12. Took my son to his first day of kindergarten this week. The emotion between letting go of a child & letting go of a story can really be the same. From one writer-mama to another, thanks for this post! 🙂

    1. You’re so welcome, Jennifer. I remember the days my boys went to Kindergarten. Each milestone in their lives has been celebrated. So celebrate those milestones in your writing life too. I hope your son loves Kindergarten.

  13. I can let go because I know I raised my kids to be good people – to use good judgement out in the world. They are excellent students and have chosen career paths that will send them out in the world to help people who can’t help themselves…so when they go back to college…I let go and I stand proud.

    If I could only feel this way about my manuscript. I should – but why is it so different?

    1. Ooops. This is my comment. I forgot to put in the name info before I hit post comment.

      1. Loree, sounds like you have terrific kids who had a great role model. I’ve found I was a little hesitant to share my writing with others because I exposed a vulnerable part of myself and I lacked confidence in my own abilities. Continuing to learn the craft and applying feedback to my manuscripts helped me to overcome some of those insecurities. I’m sending my second book to my agent this week, and I still have that “Oh, I hope she likes it” feeling.

  14. Letting go is hard in so many aspects: when we are angry, when we are in love, when we are alone… when we are hungry!!! I’ve had to let go so many times and so many important things… hardest was saying good bye to my family and friends in Brazil and moving to the US to get married. At the same time I was letting go family, friends, singing, acting, I was also embracing a whole new unknown life – with only one person I knew (my husband). Then we had kids, animals, houses, cars – and every new step is a new embrace and something that we leave behind (life is constant changing). As per my writings, I am finally letting them go out of my hard drive into pages people can read (through blogs) – one day I’ll be brave enough to send them out of the house into someone’s desk – just like I had to entrust my children’s education to their teachers – a shared upbringing somehow… But when they go to College, I think I will move wherever they go!

    Wonderful post – made me cry and relive the many goodbyes I had in my life!

  15. Ugh, ugh, ugh!!! My son heads off to college for the first time in September! I wish I hadn’t read this!! I was a total basketcase when we dropped off my daughter four years ago, but each year it got easier. Not sure how I’m going to be when I have to say goodbye to him. It feels different. I know he’s ready. I keep telling myself I’m ready too. But we shall see. 🙂 Thank goodness I have the ACFW conference to look forward to afterward!! I often think of sending off those manuscripts the same way – they are our babies. The worst part for me though is not the sending, it’s the waiting to hear back on them. I’m in that place right now, and it’s tough to stop thinking about it. But like all hard things in life, we push through and eventually it’ll be over.

      1. Cathy, you can do this, get through it, and survive. 🙂 I say that now, but I’ll be in your place next year when my baby leaves for college. Change is hard, but we need to embrace it for their growth and ours. And I’m so with you on the waiting part–that is the hardest part for me. Hugs, my friend!

  16. Even we big, tough guys (LOL) have similar moments. We have three girls who by happenstance all went off to college in the same year. (Twins and one two years older) I was okay with the first one, because she’d been on her own for a while and I’d grown accustomed to it. But when we dropped off our last girl at her dorm room and left her smiling, we went for dinner at a nearby restaurant. The whole time I’d been holding it back, holding it back, and finally, in the quiet restroom, it hit me. I was glad no one else was in there, and tried to keep the gulping sobs down. Insane. I knew I’d see her again soon, but it just was too much to give up three girls in one month. Who would we be now? We’d always been Mom and Dad. Now we’d have to go back to being “us” again, whatever that was! Quite an adjustment, but in the end a wonderful thing.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’d love to post this up on our award winning site, Murderby4.blogspot.com. Let me know if you’d be interested in guest blogging for us! Aaron Lazar (aaron dot lazar @ yahoo dot com)

  17. Let go? Seriously, though I know I can’t sail around the world without letting go of the shore, it doesn’t make it any less emotional. Great post, Lisa.

  18. What a sweet and heartfelt post, Lisa. Jeesh, I had a hard enough time at the first-grade door yesterday…I can’t quite wrap my mind around the idea of a college drop-off someday.

    I remember sitting at the desk with my finger hovering over the send key, not quite able to push it. I think it was mostly because I was scared to death…but I guess fear is a big part of our unwillingness to let go, no matter what the situation.

    1. Michelle, they grow so fast and will be in college before you know it. And you’re right about fear being a big part in not letting go. When we do let go, though, we are taken on an exciting adventure.

  19. This was one of the most beautiful posts I think I have ever read on the internet. I don’t have any children, but I can definitely identify with my writing, mostly non-fiction, being my ‘children’ because of how close what I write about is to my heart. I remember my mother telling me that the most difficult thing she ever did was to leave me at college. This was from a woman who left her home country to come to this one at 21 years old by herself. It’s hard to let go, but I guess if we do not – it isn’t beneficial to anyone. I often must remind myself of that.

    1. Maxine, your words brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for your words of encouragement. You’re so wise to see the wisdom in letting go. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  20. Lisa, I just moved my youngest into his dorm last night. He’s a freshman, and he had drawn out how he thought he wanted to arrange their room. He’s rooming with a boy from TN. They barely know each other from a tennis tournament last winter. We walked into his room and furniture was jammed in there with no rhyme or reason. First job, get the carpet down. Next job learn how to loft the beds and make the most of his space. Scott decided to create a 3 tier loft. Nobody seems to have done that before but thought it would work. Work being the operative word. Four hours later all parents left with the room pretty well laid out. I was so proud of my son for working hard and acheiving his plan. So now I should have more time to acheive the writing goals I’ve set for myself. Once I quit crying.
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Jackie, hugs!! I’m sure that was hard, but apparently you’ve raised a son who can think through problems. By the way, my son’s name is Scott too. You can do this!

  21. I always have a nagging feeling that my writing is not quite finished, that it could — and should — be better. Sometimes deadlines intervene and force the issue, but other times I merely grow fatigued with endless revising, so I send it off as is.

    1. Peter, I think almost every writer wonders if work is as polished as it needs to be after hitting sending. Even after doing my revisions and copy edits, I found things to change because in that time I had grown even more as a writer. I’m sure there will be things in the published version I’d want to change too. All you can do is know you did your very best at that time when you hit send. Agents and editors are looking for a solid story and will help with the fine polishing once a book has been contracted.

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