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Book-Writing as Parenting: A Way to Explain Things to Non-Writery Types

Let's face it: non-writer people don't really "get" what we do a lot of the time. Or what it feels like. They say things like "you just finished your rough draft? When can I buy it in a bookstore?" (writer: "AHHH!") or "literary agents sound like scams. What can they really do for you?" (writer: "SO MANY THINGS.") or "why are you so neurotic all the time? It's just a book" (writer: *flails with anger*). We have to come up with creative ways of explaining it to them, using terms they probably understand. This is just one of those ways.

Most people understand parenting comparisons even if they don't have children-- because they were probably parented themselves, with varying levels of success, or just learned about the life cycle in their health class textbook. Here we go:

Stage 1: Conception

This stage is pretty fun. (Cough.) It's the stage at which the idea hits you while you're shopping for groceries, or while you're driving on the highway. Or it's the stage at which you take an idea you've had for a long time and you form it into being via outline. At this point the book is just a very small thing that exists mostly inside you, but it's full of promise and possibility.

Stage 2: Pregnancy

Sometimes you have an idea but you're not sure if you're ready to write it yet, or if it's quite developed enough for you to start. So you have to let it gestate for awhile, growing and forming in your mind until you're really ready to commit it to "paper."

Stage 3: Labor

Maybe you're one of those people who breezes through first drafts with barely a gasp of pain. Maybe you're one of those people for whom first drafts come with great difficulty, pain, time, sweat, tears, screams, maybe even some swearing. We of the latter set like to glare daggers at the former set at every opportunity. Either way, writing a rough draft can be compared to pushing out a kid-- you're not sure what it's going to look like, but you're pretty sure you want to see it no matter what, and sometimes you want to give up, but if you do, you don't get the wonderful end product you were waiting for.

It eventually emerges, a little messier than you were perhaps anticipating, and maybe you're in love with it or exhausted and weepy, but there it is. In the world! (...of your computer!) A lot of people refer to a finally-published book with "giving birth" language, but I feel this works better in a rough draft capacity-- you'll see why later.

Stage 4: Parenting

Revision. If you have too strong a vision for what the book needs to become, you may stifle it so that it can't be the best book it can be. It's hard to find the balance between detaching from your book so that it can grow and change in ways you didn't expect, and having a firm guiding hand so you don't get overwhelmed by revisions, but that's a writer's job. Either way, you're hard at work helping the book develop, becoming sharper and more mature. Some revision passes/life stages (like pre-teens!) are more challenging than others, but you push through them, because you're a writer, dammit, and you want this book to be as good as it can be.

Stage 5: Off to College

This simile can be pretty useful for explaining what it feels like for a book to finally be released (however you're releasing it, whether it's to critique partners or agents or editors or to THE WORLD as a published work). Having a book release is like sending a child off to college: you hope that others will receive them well, but you can't control what happens to them after they go. You hope that all the work you put into their development causes them to be successful, but sometimes there are circumstances outside your control that interfere. Some books end up in more prestigious institutions than others, but if you let that bother you too much, you may not let yourself appreciate the book that you have enough.

Some "parents"/writers may interfere a little too much in the life of a book after it's released, and start up fights with people who don't receive their child/book well, but they should maybe learn to let go-- now is not the time to hold on too hard. The book needs to stand on its own. Now is the time to learn to let go, and to realize that while you don't get to control what happens to your bookchild at this point, that doesn't mean you have to stop loving your bookchild desperately and without reservation.

I hope that these (admittedly somewhat ridiculous) comparisons help you in explaining book-related things to non-writers. Do you have any other comparisons or ways of explaining writerdom that have worked in the past? Feel free to share in the comments!
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7 comments:

  1. Love this! Will totally use it to explain to my non writer friends.

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  2. Love it! It makes a lot more sense when it is put this way. :)

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  3. I laughed so hard as soon as I saw "you finished the rough draft? when can I buy it?" People think it works that way . . . and how about "why don't you just put it on the Internet and get your name out there?" and "I don't know why you're complaining about your characters not doing what they say. You're writing the thing, right?" HA. I get out my frustrations over non-writery types being clueless through a webcomic I do about being a writer, but no, I'm not plugging it here. :D

    I have actually used that "child out in the world" metaphor myself before. Specifically the bit about how you can't control what they do or who they affect after they're out of your hands. They become part of the lives of everyone they meet, sometimes with huge effects on many, sometimes affecting only a few in a big way. And other people--the teachers, coaches, and mentors of the publishing world, which are our agents, editors, and publishers/marketers--help form our "child" into what it needs to be. Sadly we also sometimes get a bad apple in there and it turns out terrible, etc. But it's a surprisingly apt extended metaphor and I use it a lot. :)

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  4. This made me laugh b/c I always think of the beta-reading stage as sending a kid off to camp :)

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  5. Love this! You've spoken the truth and made me laugh. Thank you!

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