Writing a book is exactly the same as raising a child.
Don’t believe me? I’ll give you a nice side-by-side comparison of the life stages you’ll go through with each and you’ll see that I’m totally right. I would know, by the way, since I have a 1 and a 3-year-old human child, and an almost complete first draft of the first novel I’ve ever written. So yeah, I’m pretty much an expert.
Stage 1: The Birth (The Spark)
Every writer has, in some way, alluded to or directly mentioned the “birth” of their book, but they’re usually referring to the final product, when it’s been published and sent off into the world. I would argue the birth stage is exactly like the birth stage of a human infant. With both, they’ve been hidden in darkness for months, maybe years for the book, and you already love it and know it’s going to be the best thing you ever created, even though you can’t totally visualize it yet. All you can do about the human or book fetus is think about it, plan for it, dream for it. You lose sleep over it, waking in the middle of the night, wide awake because the human fetus needs a brownie. NOW. So you go to the kitchen. Or your book fetus wakes you in the middle of the night because it demands a trapeze scene. NOW. So you write it down. Then finally, the birth comes. You can finally give the human a name to live up to, and you have received the vision for your book, so you move on to Stage 2…
Stage 2: Baby Stage (Brainstorming)
You’re still losing sleep at this stage with both the human and the book. The human demands milk. The book demands introducing new ideas to the story. You continue to toss and turn, not understanding why you can’t fall asleep after you’ve succumbed to your baby’s/book baby’s demands. You wrote down that idea, why won’t your brain shut off? You fed that squirming ball of squish and he’s sleeping soundly, why can’t you? It’s an exciting and frustrating time, but all your nurturing will not go unseen. For humans, we call it nursing on demand. For books, we’ll start calling it recording on demand. It’s never the wrong time for inspiration – aka nourishment to grow a fully formed story – just like it’s never the wrong time for another nursing session.
Stage 3: K-8 Stage (First Draft)
Ah, childhood. A time when your diligent nurturing has brought your human child to a place where you’re still very much in charge and leading them day to day, but they’re taking on a personality and life of their own. So it is with the K-8 Stage of your book child. You’ve listened to its demands for the first stage and did your due diligence, maybe created an outline (aka babyproofing), but now you’re starting to see the seeds of your sacrifice come to fruition and your book child is growing steadily. In both the human and book child, K-8 is a time of testing the boundaries, trying things for the first time, and yet your child is still looking to its creator for guidance and discipline.
As the parent to either of these types of children, you are putting ample time into training and forming this child into who or what you hope he/it will become when full maturity is reached. You’re pouring in your time, your life, your soul. You’re going to experience pain both because it’s self-sacrificial to raise a good child or book, but also because you feel the pain of your babies as though it were your own pain, and K-8 is a stage full of scraped knees, dumb mistakes, and far too many adjectives.
Stage 4: High School (Editing)
When high school comes for the human child, they are under the impression that they are a full grown adult human. You, as the parent, know that this is not true, but you must treat the high schooler with care; being sure to respect the man-child as a being slowly coming into his own, yet still always being there to offer the guidance and direction he needs to enter the real world as a decent and contributing member of society.
In your ideal situation, discipline is rarely necessary. Theoretically, if you’ve been consistent with your discipline in the K-8 stage, only a few “tweaks” are needed here and there. But if you had a wild child K-8, you might find that this high school stage is like trying to reign in a stallion. Same goes for your book. Some book parents will find that K-8 produced an honor student and only a few minor edits are needed, but more often than not, your high school book-being is a rebel without a cause, and how many times do you have to tell him NOT to use commas like that?!
When the high school stage comes for your book, your book has already shown you what it hopes to be when it “grows up,” and it’s your job as its parent to lead it there. Like a human child at this stage, rebellion is likely if you press in too hard, pushing your own agenda onto it. For example, you’ll be able to tell whether your human child is likely to be a mechanic, doctor, or entertainer at this stage, so don’t try to change the core of his or her personality or it’s gonna get ugly. Simply help guide her along the path she needs to be the best darn cat-behaviorist this side of the Mississippi! Same with your book baby. At this stage you’ll know whether that hulking 120,000 word child of yours (who started out so tiny, so innocent, who knew?) is destined to be a romance, horror, YA or otherwise. Don’t change who she is in her core in an attempt to live out your unfulfilled dreams vicariously. Let her do her. This is a time to offer your tweaks, your refinements. Do all you can while they’re living under your roof to assure you’re sending out your best work when graduation comes.
Stage 5: College (Beta Readers)
College! You’re almost there! Your parenting duties are nearly complete! You’ve sent them off into someone else’s care temporarily. The professors and RAs spend time getting to know your human child and are now taking a turn pouring themselves into him, helping him to become the best he can be. The thing about college kids though, is they still come back to you on holidays and summers. They’re still very much your baby, and you still get the chance to make sure your baby isn’t listening to “that garbage professor such-and-such spouts,” because “he’s a total quack.”
Your book baby goes through a similar transition, when you allow beta readers to spend time with your undergrad book child and offer their insights, wisdom, and changes. But that book’s still coming home to you and you still get to voice your own opinion when one of your betas (er, professors) tries pushing their own agenda too far. You’re still the parent, after all.
Stage 6: The Diploma (Finding an Agent)
Time for a celebration! Somebody has determined that your child, both human and book type, is an employable member of society! Take a moment with and for yourself, your baby, and everyone who helped bring the two of you to this place, and have a party!
Stage 7: Empty Nest (Published)
You made it to the finish line. Sweet, sweet victory is yours. The world has accepted your child as one of its own. Your children, both book and human, are working members of the economy, making their mark in history, or so you hope. Good job Mom, Dad. You did it. All your hard work has paid off in the form of a responsible, fully mature offspring that you are proud to call your own. It’s all uphill from here.
Until you find out you’re pregnant again.