Dear Novel: On Breaking Up with Your Manuscript

May 20, 2016 | 1 book mentioned 6 2 min read


Dear Novel,

It’s over. We both know it.

That’s not to say that it hasn’t been fun. We got together in the summer of 2012. You were a short story, a few thousand glorious words, but I wanted you to be more. Every fiction writer thinks they need to be in a long-term relationship.

coverI hated when people wanted to call you manuscript. You were better than that. You were always a novel. At least in my mind. You started as a single-worded file name, Harvest. I already had high hopes for you. I must have just watched Days of Heaven and listened to Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for the thousandth time. I finished your first draft a few days after Thanksgiving that year.

I should have listened to you more. You were happier as a story. I tried to make this more than it was. I even realized the truth when people asked my favorite question, “what is your novel about?” Halfway during my description of you, I would revise you. I sped up your first chapters. I used the word “revenge” several times when describing your plot. If I noticed their eyes drifting away, I said you were “intense.”

You knew better. When it was late at night and you beamed at me from the MacBook, you reminded me that we struggled. I know that relationships are tough, but we can admit now that this was ridiculous. We broke up for weeks and months, and then we got back together. It was a cycle. During the semester, I didn’t call or text or even pull you up in Finder, but as soon as school was out, there I was, with coffee and compliments. I copied and pasted you into a new document, and re-named you (you changed me, too, it’s OK).

I began to get superstitious about naming you novel.doc, so I named you variations of “new:” newnovel.doc, NEWnovel.doc, new_literary_despair.doc. I gave you new fonts. I printed you out (sorry about shrinking your margins) and brought you to the library. I used a pencil to edit you, and then when everyone else was asleep, I typed the updates. I believed in us.

I wanted the world to know about our love, so I queried agents. They were enthusiastic at first, but you sat in their mailboxes for month. They said nice things about you, about us, but it was always no. I could tell from the cadence of their sentences and how they broke their response into two paragraphs, starting with the praise but ending with the reality.

You got frustrated. You told me that only an idiot makes an Excel document to collect agent rejections. You said that I was trying to turn you into a thriller when you were really a literary novel. You wanted character; I knew agents wanted plot. We fought.

The last agent to say no wanted to change your soul, and I refused. I closed the email, brought you onto the desktop one last time, but didn’t tell you the truth. So here I am.

I’m sorry. I won’t forget or delete you.

But I’ve got to move on.



P.S. Stop telling everyone that I listen to “A House is Not a Home” on repeat.

P.P.S. I’m in love with essays now.

Image Credit: YouTube.

is a contributing editor for The Millions. He is the culture editor for Image Journal, and a contributor to the Catholic Herald (UK). He has written for Rolling Stone, GQ, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, Esquire, and the Kenyon Review. He is the author of Longing for an Absent God and Wild Belief. Follow him at @nickripatrazone and find more of his writing at


  1. Well done, Nick. At least this little essay came out of it. I slaved over a novel that was ‘good’ enough to actually get me an agent…but I knew it still wasn’t good enough. The rejections from publishers didn’t even sting. I undertook a major re-write, and halfway through that, I realized the concept was just no good. So it’s gone forever…

  2. I hope NewNovelDoc and its characters are some place nice, perhaps a long virtual sea voyage through the Collective Unconscious. They shall comfort themselves with fictional ice cream and beer, before heading cautiously out to the Fictional Singles salsa night, hosted by a Jolly Cruise Director out of an Evelyn Waugh travel novel from the 1930’s.

    Perhaps a lucky character or two will be swooped up into the mind of another, more suitable writer, a short story writer who will not ask anything more of them. They shall be happy, and beget many more short stories together unto the seventh generation.

    It’s not you, it’s not them. It just wasn’t meant to be. But what a sweet, hopeful, interlude!

    Moe Murph
    Definitely needs to get away from the screen and go do tango

  3. The balls it took to face the truth, wow. Bravo, literally and figuratively (and literarily). This is one of the best pieces of writing instruction I’ve ever read. I’ll definitely share this with my writing students in the fall. PS: More essays? Yes, please. Seems to me you two are perfect for each other.

  4. @Nick Belperio and @Nick Ripatrazone

    Second the motion! Great metaphor for the process (hope metaphor is the right word here). Who knows, maybe the time is right, right now, for essays, but that the process of writing them will give birth to a compelling theme that will lead you to the novel you were “meant” to write.

    Moe Murph
    OK, back to work now on the expense reimbursements

  5. loved the story. Sometimes the book fights back–and wins. It’s hard to acknowledge that not all works are meant to be the ultimate novel. We write, we learn, we become. Thanks for the post. Bookmarking it for a future leasson.

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