Pregnancy, childbirth, and parental attachment metaphors abound in this business. Strain at the plot arc and grind your teeth through the editing pains and you’ve given birth (or at least served as midwife) to a new thing, a wobbly creature you christen with a title, then swaddle in cover art. Endure criticism and it stings like having your baby defamed as hard-on-the-eyes. Ask many a writer and you’ll hear that the task of peddling a manuscript is nothing short of turning out your very flesh and blood into the cold, cruel world.
Life is hard, but literature is a nursery of horrors.
Or is it?
AuthorScoop has invited authors of every stripe to weigh in, three at a time on Thursdays, on one question:
Is your book your baby?
“Hello, my name is Jessica Brody and I am the proud mother of three books…with another on the way. The parallel between writing books and being a parent is not accidental. It’s a brilliant comparison. I don’t have any “real” children so I can’t say with absolute certainty that writing and publishing a book is exactly like gestating and giving birth to a child, but I can say it’s as close as I’m going to get…for a while anyway. At 30 years old, I’m in no rush to have children. I’m not even sure I’ll have any ever. Even as all of my friends are starting to multiply with offspring, I feel content in my existence as a writer. I’ve heard mothers say that they weren’t “fulfilled” until they had their children. I feel the same way about my books. I didn’t feel like my life was on track, like I had found my true purpose, until I started writing for a living.
My books are my children. They start with a planted seed. They’re gestated, molded, shaped, and instilled with wisdom until they’re ready to face the world on their own. I try my best to prepare them for what they’ll encounter on the outside, but in the end, they’re on their own. And I just have to sit back and hold my breath while the world receives them. I have no control over what or who will affect them. If they’ll be faced with kind words or hurtful ones. All I can do is be there to support them through the good times and the bad. Because no matter what happens to them, I will always love them. Because each one of them has a tiny piece of my soul within it. Each one of them is my pride and joy. And I’m proud of them no matter what.
And isn’t that the very definition of a good parent?”
“If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the comparison of a writer’s work to his child, I wonder if it would take the sting out of writing for only hope and heartburn? Probably not. But no matter, the question is: is it true? Is each story a spawn?
In a word, or three – not at all. Not for me, at any rate.
This has less do to with what I think of my writing than it does with how I think of my children. From the moment I knew they were there, they were never mine. Even earlier than that, in the days before I realized that everything was about to change, or change again, the DNA had already merged; the match was in the tinder.
After that, nothing beyond my dumb animal functions of chewing the choicest feed and resting when the hooves and hide told me to was going to make much of a difference. That baby, to an extent, was what it was going to be from the first spark, and all very much beyond my control.
And no plea or plan I owned had any bearing on labor and delivery, that’s for sure.
Making a baby is easy. Writing is hard.
It’s is an act of will, and I’m not exactly known for my flint and iron. As such, I can’t relate my work to a cosmic roll of the dice and the ensuing biological avalanche. My inertia or distraction, thank god, never kept a fetus from growing her fingernails or hooking up her little gall bladder pump to her small intestine.
It really comes down to what I imagine I can take credit for. The word ‘pride’ has never sat snuggly in the hole that each of my daughters has scooped out of my heart. What I feel for them is far purer than what I feel for anything I’ve written. They are a product of all their world, inside and out. My writing is more of me than my children ever could (or should) be. It’s mine. They are not.
Of course that means a small, bound universe fails in its entirety when I don’t write it right, and it’s all my fault. But I know the difference. Ruin a child and you’ve committed the gravest sin. Ruin a manuscript and, in godlike prerogative, you can stir the deluge, commission an ark, and try it again – albeit perhaps in the employ of a new pen name. (And a new agent, if you’ve really mucked it up.)
The biggest challenge in handling my babies is doing it well. With the writing, the fight is more of a joust with the Devil. He whispers sweet stingingly that I don’t have to do it at all. It’s much harder to rouse my artistic diligence than it is to surrender myself to the mostly-happy obligations of family life. Praise for one certainly tingles in an entirely different place than for the other. Same goes for the pain.
Of course, all of this may simply mean that I’m doing it wrong, either the mothering part or the writing. Holy hell, what if it’s both?”
“Are my books my babies? Well, now…you’re asking the least maternal person I know, who never wants children, so I’d have to give the potentially-controversial answer: I like my books more than I could ever love a child. There’s a definite connection with creativity and production, although with a child you have to take what God gives you. With books? In the main, I’m the one in control, barring recalcitrant characters and their unpredictable shenanigans.
I don’t get morning sickness. I get all-day excitement. The ‘new-book fizz’ in the pit of my stomach when I realise a new idea will fly, and the only cure isn’t ginger biscuits, but to sit down and write until the voices in my head shut up.
Gestation? I think I’d go mad if I had to wait nine months to finish a book! I’m a fast writer and the longest I’ve taken to write anything of note was five and a half months. The quickest novel I wrote took me two and a half. I’m impatient, and don’t like the thought of lumbering around with a steadily-increasing bookbaby waiting to make its way in the world. Luckily, timescale isn’t down to Mother Nature. It’s down to no-one else but me; a fact which greatly appeals to the control freak in me. Babies are a lottery and a thing apart. Books are entirely me and mostly under my control. I’m too much of a narcissist to present the world with something that’s down to chance and 50% its father’s issue. Either a narcissist or an approval-whore.
All of the above is not to say I’m a conveyor belt of prose, churning out product with little or no care for each book. I love each ‘baby’ individually and intensely while it needs me, but when they’re done, tire of them very quickly. “Okay, you’re done. Your story’s told, I’m going to kick you out of the nest now ’cause I have another batch of eggs waiting to hatch. Go. Make me some money.”
Is my book my baby? Well, I love my ‘children’ but it’s not unconditional. I pick them to pieces and criticise in ways no loving mother ever would. When my babies are born, they are ugly and I have no problems with telling them so. I see their potential, but wouldn’t think twice about telling them, “You’re not good enough.”
I think books are a more intimate production than a child could ever be, because they are 100% of me. They require no father, and don’t develop their own personality. They don’t make their own way in the world and change and grow – they’re static. Frozen pieces of Scarlett Parrish as she was at the time of writing. Like an embarrassing school photo plastered on the internet for everyone to point and laugh at.
I think publishing a book is closer to masturbating in public rather than having sex and producing a child.
I also think I’d be a terrible mother.”