Monday, January 5, 2015

5 Ways Writing a Book is Totally Like Being Pregnant
image by Ellen Kohlenberg via a Creative Commons license

I know, I know.  It's one of the oldest and most cliched writing metaphors around.  Writing a book = being pregnant.  Pish posh, tell us something new.

But I can't, because I'm writing a book.  And I'm pregnant.  And I can't stop thinking about the ways in which the two connect.

And anyway, it's only cliche because it's true -- like, really, really true, which is why people make the analogy so often.

So I give you, straight from the pregnant writer's mouth:  5 Ways Writing a Book is Totally Like Being Pregnant.

1.  It takes a long time.

Writing a book and growing a baby take a really long time.  Like, really long.  I'm 21 weeks pregnant as I write this, and I feel like I've been pregnant f o r e v e r -- and I'm only halfway.  That's what I feel like when I'm writing, too: look at me go, I'm so professional, I've been writing every day for weeks . . . and my word count is only at 30,000 words -- and that's not even counting editing and querying/submitting/publishing.

*cue tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth*

It's not necessarily a bad thing that it takes a long time for a book and baby to form (actually, it's a really good thing for babies  -- prematurity is no fun for anyone involved, it seems).  But when it feels like you're holding your breath -- and I always feel like I'm holding my breath when I'm writing a novel, and when I'm pregnant -- well, that gets really hard after a while. 

2.  It really hurts.

You've been pregnant for what must certainly have been a lifetime.  You've got stretch marks, ankles the size of both the Dakotas, and you're peeing every fifteen minutes (in the toilet, if you're lucky).  And then, after all that, the Very Best Day -- the day you finally get to meet this precious, most-wanted and incredibly tiny and adorable person -- also happens to be the Most Painful Day of the whole run.  You're doing really well if you come through with only the most excruciating physical experience of your life and and a vagina that's so sore you're terrified to try going #2 anytime soon.

Writing a book is kind of the same way.  You write -- and write, and write -- for weeks, months, maybe years.  You get feedback, constructive critiques, and edit the hell out of that manuscript.  All of this takes major guts.  And then at the end of it all, you get to look forward to the experience of basically begging agents and publishers to pretty please just look at this book you've given your life away over.  Or you indie publish, and get to do all the final edits, dreaded formatting (I'm looking at you, Kindle), cover design, marketing (argh!), and release day glories.  You're doing really well if you come through with only a couple of venomous one star reviews.

3.  It's kind of scary.

I think pregnancy is a beautiful and sacred time, a time of exquisite mystery and opportunity.  But it also can be really scary, particularly if pregnancy loss or infertility have played a role in your life.  Even if those villains haven't paid to a visit, though, pregnancy is, at times, weird and kind of terrifying.  All this stuff is happening to your body and you're just watching it happen.  Pregnancy also brings with it higher risk factors and scary potential complications.  And as if that wasn't enough, pregnancy concludes with your body essentially tearing itself open to painfully excrete an entirely new human being through your hoo-ha.  And then you spend the rest of your life half-sick with worry about all the many horrifying things that could befall your amazing and (it feels like) stupidly fragile child (who decided humanity could be this fragile? obviously not a mother).  Basically, being pregnant (or trying to get pregnant, or adopt) takes major balls.

Writing a book is not for the faint of heart either.  Ernest Hemingway famously said, "There's nothing to writing.  All you do is sit down at at typewriter and open a vein" -- and that pretty much sums it up.  Want to write a book?  Prepare to turn your soul inside out and scrape its insides raw.  Ruthlessly edit said soul scrapings before turning them loose into the world, where you stand a good chance that they will be dismissed/judged/misunderstood/ignored.  More soul bleeding will ensue, whether your book is beloved or reviled.  Rinse, repeat.

4.  It's thankless.

If you want a career or life calling in which the people you relentlessly give everything you have for fall over themselves to thank you -- parenthood is not it.  My son is still very small, but it seems like the last thing to expect, that at some point he'll start falling all over himself to show his gratitude for my efforts.

You don't get into parenthood for the glory (is there any glory?).  You do it for the love -- the love you have for this mind-blowingly awesome person who may or may not roll his eyes at your awkwardness every five seconds starting at puberty.  You do it for the love first, and hope that you don't screw it up too badly.

Books, too.  Unless you're really lucky or really good -- or, better yet, a combination of both -- you're not going to hit it big with your first book.  Or your second.  Or maybe even your tenth.  And anyway, if you're doing this kind of gut-wrenching worth only for the fame and glory -- well, there's got to be an easier way to get said glory. 

No.  You do it for the love.  For the love of words, of dreaming up new things, of your characters, of communication, of the sensation of lay letters down across the page.  You do it for the love first, and hope that your words will mean something to someone, but know that it's okay (if hard) if you are the only someone. 

5.  It's totally worth it.

Some days I wonder if getting into this whole motherhood thing was the best idea.  It's kind of a lot of work, and I tend to get heartsick with worry in a way that I never used to before.  Plus I'm pretty low on sleep, with no reprieve in sight.

But then I look at my son -- this unimaginably beautiful and sweet and amazing and hilarious and sacred person -- and I can't imagine a life without him in it.  He's worth it all.

Same with writing.  Words have been my lifeline for most of my years, and writing them is not only sometimes the most fun thing of all time and sometimes the thing which leaves me tearing at my hair in despair -- but its necessary.  It's life, self-care, therapy, community, and soul-exploration.  It's holy ground, and I can't imagine life without writing in it.

And while writing novels isn't quite like writing a blog -- definitely less self-care in the novel department -- it's still necessary.  It is somehow a part of me, not to mention a lifelong dream.  To not write would be a sort of death at the soul level.  And so I write, even when it hurts, even when the words come out all wrong, and I never seem to know how to end the damn thing.

My son is my heart.  Writing is my heart's work. 

* * *

I'm sure there are more connections, but I'm too pregnant to think (there's another one -- pregnancy + writing will completely sap your brain of the power to think about anything other than pregnancy/writing).  So I'll leave you with a really cute intersection of babies and book-writing from when my son was even tinier than he is now, and I'd decided that simultaneously breastfeeding and writing was a thing I could do (hint: it wasn't, not for this brain):

You're welcome.

Now, your turn.  What's your favorite "writing a a book is totally like being pregnant" connection?  Feel free to sub any other art form (or, um, anything, really) in for writing.

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― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King