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