Mother of Girl, Mother of Stories

It struck me the other day: turning an idea into a story and getting that story published is so similar to having a child and raising it, it’s a little scary. I know it’s a popular metaphor, the one about books being babies, but, seriously, it goes far beyond that emotional attachment between creator and creation.

The parallel between the conception of a child and the conception of an idea is, well, obvious. In both cases it’s great when there’s love involved but often there’s also fear, anxiety, and even horror when the conception becomes a fact. I, for one, nearly fainted when I found out I was pregnant, from the shock of the surprise and the rush of euphoria that followed on its heels. I felt pretty similar emotions when “The Lamiastriga” took shape in my head, when I realized it is good enough an idea to turn into a story. And it was my idea.

Unlike babies, stories sometimes take a lot less than nine months to grow into stories but just like babies they need proper care to grow. Whether you plan your plot and know how the story will end from the get go or you go with the flow and let yourself be surprised, you need to put in the work, just like you need to take care of yourself while pregnant.

And then comes the day when you put the period on the last sentence or write THE END below that last sentence, or, you know, go give birth to the person who will make you immortal. In fact, this is an even closer parallel between books and children: a book is someone’s claim to immortality in group memory; a child is someone’s claim to immortality in the gene pool, which is a kind of group memory if you think about it. But birth/first draft completion is just the start. Now, the rollercoaster journey begins.

Sleepless nights? Whether it’s because of six nighttime feedings or a scene that’s giving you trouble, sleepless nights are more or less a must for parents of children and/or books.

Anxiety? Check. Whether it’s for your toddler, learning to walk in a world suddenly full of sharp edges and tripping obstacles, or for your third draft facing a crowd of beta readers who just might not be as fond of it as you are, this is your life as a parent.

Potty training? That’s the same as your first round of editing. You’ve given the child/book time. You’ve been patient. But it has to be done and you know it will be a trip to Hell. Sometimes it turns out a lot easier than that but let’s not kid ourselves: unless it’s not your first child or your first book, this stage in the process is often unpleasant, to say the least. But you go through it because you’re brave. Kudos to you!

They grow so fast, don’t they? One day you look at your child or your fifth draft and you get that weird feeling that several years (or months, for books) have not just passed quickly, they have swooshed by you. Your child is old enough to go to school. Your book is good enough to go to a publisher. They are ready to leave the nest and though this is scary it’s also exciting: you’ve made it! You’ve kept the child/the book alive and now they’re ready to enter the bigger world, fraught with dangers as it is.

And they will change, precious. Your child and your book will change in so many ways now they’re in hands other than yours. If you’re lucky, these hands will be caring and loving. If not… let’s not talk about this, okay? It would be bad, that’s enough. But if the hands are caring, your child and your book will become the best version of themselves. With your help, of course.

It’s really odd, this similarity. Witnessing — and participating in — the process of development from chubby, uncoordinated baby/crude first draft to a child, in whom you already see the adult they will become/final draft ready for the editors is a remarkable experience.

In fact, I wonder if writers who begin writing seriously before they become parents (if they choose to, of course) don’t make better parents than the rest of us.¬†Raising a child takes a lot of love, care and patience, and so does writing a book. Perhaps all prospective parents should be required to write a book first. You know, to prepare.

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