Dissonance, a Novel by Lisa Lenard-Cook Buy This Book via Amazon.com

The Art of Fiction: 
Letting Go

by Lisa Lenard-Cook

January 2008

"At some point in your writing life,
you’ll need to say goodbye. . ."


At some point in your writing life, you’ll need to say goodbye, not just to a poor word choice, extraneous sentence, or do-nothing scene, but to an entire manuscript. Admitting that a fiction you’ve spent weeks, months — even years — working on will never be what you had hoped is akin to separation from a loved one. That’s why it seems to me that ceremony is called for.

Funerals for Manuscripts

Ceremony is humanity’s way of acknowledging marked change, be it birth, marriage, death, or something in between. That’s why, no matter what our denomination, when a loved one dies, we step away our daily lives to attend a wake, service, or other ceremony. We do this not only to honor that person, but to help us move on to life without him or her.

Letting go of a manuscript that you’ve spent a lot of time with will leave a similar hole in your life. Having a ceremony to acknowledge that hole will not only ease your pain, but be the first step toward whatever is next for you.

I’m not suggesting anything as radical (or verboten) as book-burning. Rather, I encourage you to put your manuscript in a container (file folder, envelope, box, drawer?) that honors the time you spent together — and then to bid it adieu. Say something to it (whether it’s a prayer, “It’s been fun,” or “Hasta la vista, baby,” spoken words are part of saying goodbye), then set it ceremoniously in its container. At the conclusion of your ceremony, put the container away.

". . .allow yourself . . . time to mourn
your manuscript."

Mourning for Manuscripts




In Jewish tradition, we sit shiva for seven days after a funeral (shiva means “seven”), and you should allow yourself a similar length of time to mourn your manuscript. Don’t work on something else, or dwell on what went wrong. Rather, honor your manuscript by remembering what was good (there was something, or you wouldn’t have kept at it all that time). Laugh, cry, get angry, be disappointed; in other words, do whatever you need to acknowledge the time you were together.

"You’ll know when your mourning
has come to an end. . . "

You’ll know when your mourning has come to an end when, one day, without even thinking about it, you sit down and start all over again. Life goes on, the saying tells us, and so will your writing life. Sometimes the hardest part of letting go is knowing that you must.




Lisa Lenard-Cook
Lisa Lenard-Cook
Lisa Lenard-Cook’s first novel Dissonance was short-listed for the PEN Southwest Book Award, and her second novel Coyote Morning short-listed for the New Mexico Press Women’s Zia Award. Lisa is on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference and Vermont College’s Lifelong Learning Program. Her book about fiction writing, The Mind of Your Story, (April 2008) is now available for advance purchase at amazon.com.




Learn more from Lisa Lenard Cook in her Authorlink online class, beginning Saturday, January 5, 2008. Enroll now!