Wednesday, August 01, 2007


It's been awhile since I actually gave birth to a human being, but I remember the process. And as I labor through getting these proposals out of my head and into the light of day, I am struck by the parallels, even though at this moment giving birth seems the easier task.

Both processes start with a tiny piece of raw material provided by you and fertilized by another source (i.e. the father or in the case of a book, all the information and details you've absorbed from the world around you.) Tucked safely away in the womb or in the head, the baby or the idea grows, taking additional nutrients and creating interesting side effects for the "host." With a baby, you have fatigue, tender breasts, backaches. Hormones going catawampus. Too many tears, odd cravings, water retention --

Okay, some of those side effects fit "hosting" a book idea as well. Add distraction, talking to yourself, laying awake at night hearing voices inside your head -- oh, I see the difference. With a baby, the side effects are physical and emotional. With a book, you're actually showing signs of psychosis. Hm -- that explains a lot.

Time passes. In pregnancy, the body does most the work with or without commitment from the mother. In fact, the mother can pretend the whole thing isn't happening if she wants and it will happen anyway. But with a book, there's no slacking off. Every little twist and turn is its own small birth, and in any book, let alone a mystery, there are many twists and turns. You have to be on deck for a million decisions, like a foreman at a construction site who can't go inside the trailer, put up his feet and suck down coffee all day. Like a director at a play during the first run through. Like a million other jobs that demand someone be in charge, day or night, rain or shine, no rest for the wicked.

I am currently having twins. And because I have alerted the powers that be in my corner of the publishing world, there is a feeling of inevitability about this. In other words, just like their human counterparts, these books will germinate, come to full term and be born. And then, like their human counterparts, they will need nurturing. They will do the literary equivalent of messing diapers and demanding two a.m. feedings before eventually struggling to their feet and walking a few steps before breaking a lamp. Then they will open the back door and race into the yard. They'll climb trees while I beg them to stop. They'll start dating and maybe have a minor run in with the law which I'll have to bail them out of. Eventually, they'll take one last step into maturity, be full blown gown-ups with a future that is out of my hands and I'll send them forth, kind of like giving birth again. I'll wipe away a tear or two of pride mixed with relief as they disappear from my sight.

And then I'll probably do it all over again, because just like a real pregnancy and birth, the end result will diminish the sometimes painful experience of producing the end product.

I don't have an exercise for you to do or even a lot of pithy questions but comments about your own "birthing" experiences would help distract me from my current overwhelmed state and would be most appreciated. Maybe you've discovered something that makes this easier. Do tell.


wavybrains said...

I started giggling hysterically at "mother can pretend the whole thing isn't happening if she wants and it will happen anyway." Now that I AM pregnant, I just don't understand those women who arrive at the ER with a stomachache and leave with a 9 pound baby. How could you possibly not notice this?

But, its parallel in the book world sure is tempting--sit down at your computer and discover a nearly finished MS--"Ooops! How did that happen!" Just as unlikely, but heck that would be so lovely.

And I do lie awake hearing voices and talk to myself--with both kinds of gestation :)

The other parallel I see is a lot of "hurry up and waiting." You get everything all plotted out, the scenes play in your head at night, and it's this gorgeous movie that you can't wait to see transformed on paper. But, you still have to get through the day to day: the hard work of drafting. You make miniscule progress. You're sure you'll never be done. But at the same time, you're not ready to be done. You read books on editing too soon. You talk to others too much/too soon. Then you look around and you ARE almost done, and you can't believe how far along you are. But even then, you can't predict an end date. The editor gives you an induction date. You feel pressured. But still, it comes when it comes. You try to prepare for the new arrival, but it's so hard to know what to do: contests, agent search, editor query, critique groups. So many competing "parenting styles." What will you need? You buy books that may not apply, clothes that may not fit, and you assemble everything, waiting for the arrival. And then, it's done. And of course, it needs the exact opposite of all of your preparations, and you're delighted, but it's nothing like what you expected during all that waiting.

I'll stop now before I write a whole book on the subject.

Piper Lee said...

Alice-- I love your book cover! He looks so sweet and cuddly.

Great blog post today. Very interesting comparisons.

I find it funny that just like getting pregnant, the best part of (trying) to give birth to a book is the conception part. LOL

Elisabeth Naughton said...

I never much liked giving birth. Of course, I never went the epidural, no-pain route, so maybe that was my problem. Hey, think we can get an epidural during the book birthing process?

Alice Sharpe said...

Wavy -- Oh, man, wouldn't that be great! To just wake up the computer some morning and see a book waiting there that you know you wrote somewhere in the deep recesses of your mind, but don't actually recall. And all you have to do is hit print.


And yep, you're right, the metaphors go on and on and you have obviously spent a whole lot of time plotting and planning for your soon to be bundle of joy. And just like with a book, even if it's not exactly what you expect, it will be what it is and it will be wonderful and you will love it, even with its dangling participles, its incomplete sentences and its revelations that may not be quite as surprising as you imagined. Because it will always be more than you could forsee. And now I don't know which baby I am talking about anymore.


Alice Sharpe said...

Piper, Thanks, I love that book cover, too. Of course, along with that love comes the hope that the inside lives up to the outside!

And you are right about conception -- in both cases!


Alice Sharpe said...

Eli -- As always, you are brilliant. An epidural during book birthing. I think it's called alcohol.


There's actually a section in Dwight Swain's book, Techniques of a Selling Writer, that deals with writers drinking too much to come down off the tension and high of writing. I find that kind of funny. I guess it fits the old image of the salty writer sitting down with a bottle of Bourbon after a rough day at the typewriter!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

ROFL, Alice.

Shhh...don't tell Piper, but I get my best writing done on a glass of wine.

Alice Sharpe said...

Eli, Mum's the word.


wavybrains said...

Eli--I totally want an Epidural for Editing. :)

I'm hoping like heck to not need an epidural for the baby's birth, but I think I might accept one for editing this book!

Alice Sharpe said...

Wavy -- Stuck in this first process, the idea of editing already completed work sounds wonderful. I guess the part we're not doing always looks more appealing than the part we're actually working on.


Piper Lee said...

Hey! I heard that wine comment! I'm not deaf. :P''' (That's me raspberry-ing you girls)

Karen Duvall said...

Great post, Alice. I'm with Eli on the wine booster. Yep, works for me, but only until I start to get sleepy. It's best I just stay away from the sauce while I write.

I like the comparisons of birthing, which works with any creative project I suppose. The birth itself is more relief than pain, I think. Or maybe that's just me. Then there's the revision process, and I'm not sure how that fits in to the analogy. 8^) And considering the amount of time it takes me to finish a book, I must be an elephant with the gestation period to match. 22 months. Yeah, that's about right, give or take.

Alice Sharpe said...

Karen -- 22 months, Oh, just hit me with something pointy and hard and get it over with.

Paty Jager said...

Great blog, Alice! I like the comparisons.

I'm not full of anything inspiring, I'm afraid. I have the next Petticoat book in my head and ready to do more research, and I'm going to put a proposal together for the series I want to write. So you could say I am birthing twins as well! Actually triplets because I need to finish the second spirit book.

I've been spending time with the family and little at anything creative this week, so I'm not much help.

wavybrains said...

Karen--editing is the 3rd trimester when it seems like you are forever 4 weeks from being done. Your WIP is huge, and cumbersome, and you just want it DONE!. That's editing :)

Genene said...

Loved this! You and Bethany could collaborate on your own how to write and give birth at the same time book! At this stage in my life, I think I'll just stick with writing books!