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 on Thursdays, on one question:
Is your book your baby?
(view the entire essay collection here)
Is my book my baby? Initially I thought, emphatically, no. I found it very easy to say why not. But, with time and reflection, I found that the answer depends heavily upon perspective. If the question is whether writing and parenting are analogous, I don’t think so. But if it’s about what happens to the author? I might say yes.
A written work will naturally develop in fits and starts, as children do. But time and age carry children with them. If I put away a draft for lack of knowing what to do next, it will stay as it is – and when I come up with the idea, it’s there waiting, as I left it. And I can be satisfied that it’s been improved. Children will grow and learn, with or without me. Many of the questions change from moment to moment – as do the answers. There is much greater peril in waiting or sitting idle for a parent than there is for an author. In fact, a parent is scarcely an author at all, much as one might like to be; I’d say a parent is more an editor anyway, and one who will never see the entire manuscript.
In either case, there’s a sense of personal investment – if they’re coolly received or, far worse, unnoticed, I’ll take it hard. But with a written work, it’s a personal disappointment: maybe I feel misjudged, or deflated because my best isn’t good enough – or that I could’ve given better, and I’m disappointed in myself. But that’s nothing like the wrench I feel on behalf of my children when they encounter disappointment or rejection; my hurt has nothing to do with me. It’s the futility that stings.
When I write, if the work ends up well, I’m delighted. If I run into trouble early on, I may abandon it and start another. It’s not easy to give up on a nascent work, but it’s possible. Fatherhood, though, is one long final draft with no chance to edit, no rewrite. It’s no good just banging out any old words just to unblank the page, knowing I can fix them later. And I can’t just take a hiatus, stick the work in the drawer until inspiration strikes again, or give it up and go back to whatever the day job was. I have two works going at once, and there’s no switching between them. They all need my full and best attention, now.
But, rather than looking at the work, consider the creator. What happens to a writer through the creative process? How is one engaged, moulded, enlightened? What happens to us as our children grow, with us, next to us, beyond us?
As a poet, I’m altered by anything I write; I can’t be unaffected by it. Every line, whether I use it or not, advances my experience and informs my consciousness somehow. Every poem that follows is in the context of what I’ve already written. As a father, I’ve been unceasingly amazed and in love with each of my children, from the moment I learned they were imminent. I revel every moment in the beauty of their imperfection and the imperfection of their beauty. Sometimes it doesn’t look or sound like I’m revelling.
But I’m a work in progress too; I learn and grow with, and thanks to, my children. Because of them, I view life and the world – and myself – much differently. It’s not just their perspectives as people; it’s the fact of my responsibility as a father. I must always consider how they see and feel the world, and how my own childhood experience should – or should not – inform my role in our relationships. I see things differently because they are here, and because of them, I am changed.
There’s no chance, for me, that my written work could ever fit the baby metaphor. But what I write shapes me as truly as I shape it. And that’s startlingly like parenthood.
-Rob McCreery, poet and AuthorScoop contributing editor
The Question: How do you, as a writer, relate to the gestation, childbirth, and parenting metaphor as it pertains to your work? In short, is your book your baby?
The Short Answer: No. Writing a book does not make you fat.
The Long Answer: In which I compare gestation and childbirth to the writing process.
(Disclaimer: I write this while 8 months into my fourth pregnancy. Which, as I’ve written about before, means that I am now a constantly grumpy person.)
Below you will find my very scientific research comparing several components of the two situations. I did this by fabricating conducting a completely unbiased and very real interview with myself a writer and a pregnant woman.
Me: First, I’d like to ask you about conception. What was that like for you?
Writer: Well, it depends on the story. Writer sits back and sips a cup of hot, fresh coffee. Often I have a dream, or sometimes the big “What if?” question pops out at me. Every once in a while I’ll have this revelation in that moment before waking up, and I’ll jot down thoughts in my little writer’s notebook.
Usually, there’s a seed of an idea, and I take it from there.
Pregnant Woman: Eyes coffee enviously. Fidgets with glass of ginger ale. Um…really? Do we need to talk about this?
Me: Right. We’ll move on to the physical nature of your job as mother and as writer. Could you please describe the changes that happen to your body during the gestation process?
Writer: Long pause and furrowed brow. I guess I can get a stiff neck if I sit at my computer for too long. Carpal tunnel on the days when I’m really typing fast. Sometimes a headache if my characters don’t cooperate.
Pregnant Woman: Pushes ginger ale to the side and launches in with obvious delight. Well, it starts with several months of intense nausea. Throwing up at unpredictable moments. Ravenous hunger paired with momentary food aversions. Then there’s the heartburn, insomnia, headaches, and mood swings. The second trimester is a little better, but that’s when the weight gain starts in. The swelling. The back pain and the round ligament stabbing pain and the shooting pain down the sciatic nerve. Sometimes there’s carpal tunnel or a tingling in my hands. Hemorrhoids. Toward the end, the insatiable need to pee returns. The hugeness of my belly and the stretch-marks. The internal jabs of another person inside growing. More heartburn. Less room for anything. The impossibility of hoisting myself off a couch or rolling over in bed. And then –
Me: I see. What about the actual process of gestating. How do you personally contribute to it?
Pregnant Woman: Rubs belly fondly. I try and eat right and exercise. But, you know, it always feels like such a miracle. A tiny person is forming, complex cellular division leading to the formation of organs and bodily features. Did you know that you can see the little heart beating as early as 8 weeks? And I don’t plan that. My body just knows what to do.
Writer: Pulls out notebook with outlines and penciled in charts. Well, I’m a plotter. Which means once I have an idea I sit down and write a detailed outline of how the events will unfold. Sometimes things change, which means I’ll have to rewrite the entire manuscript. But, if all goes well, I set aside two hours a day to really focus on my writing. Once the first draft is complete, then the endless round of revisions comes into play. It really is time-consuming but so very worthwhile.
Me: Hmmm. Finally, let’s talk about delivery. How do you know when you’re finished?
Writer: Sits back in chair and stares dreamily off into the sunset. You’re never finished. It’s like this journey of editing and revising, and, even when your work is ready to be sent out there in the wide world, you’ll always be engaging with the creative process.
Pregnant Woman: Seriously? I push an eight-pound human out of my yoo-hoo.
The Conclusion: And there you have it. Given this incredibly insightful data-finding interview, I think we can conclude that the merit of the pregnancy/writing comparison lies in the carpal tunnel connection.
Can someone call a book their baby? I suppose so, but the last time I checked, a book won’t poop on your favorite shirt. Or wake you up to be fed in the middle of the night. Or give you a heart-melting smile first thing in the morning. Or a sticky, jammy kiss after lunch.
I get why people make this comparison between parenting and writing, I really do. And I see the usefulness of a word-picture to help capture the challenges and rewards of the creative process, the mysterious formation of a story out of nothing, and the long, drawn out days of writing and waiting and writing some more. But, please, for the sanity of all the pregnant women out there – especially, the pregnant writers – let’s put a quick end to this metaphor. Or, if you must tout it, pack on 40 pounds for every book you write, and then we’ll talk.”
-mid-grade author of the upcoming THE TALE OF UNA FAIRCHILD, Marissa Burt