Whoa! What did she say? Being a writer is like being a mum? She probably doesn’t have kids…
Actually I do. Two gorgeous little sproglings who drive me crazy. Which is why I can honestly say that being a writer is exactly like venturing into parenting – because I’ve done both.
Before having babies we had an idea of how it should be. I am probably the worst person for saying things like “I won’t let my kids watch TV for 8 hours a day.” It’s the summer holidays, I still have to work, it was raining, so I stuck the TV on and let them watch it all day the other. “I won’t let my kids have tablets in their bedrooms.” Guess where they are right now… It was the same pre-writing. “I won’t change who I am once I’ve written a novel.” I’ve created two personas – mum-me and writer-me.
A naive, 20-year old me. Pre-child.
Every pregnancy is different. I know women who walked through 9 months, pop out a baby, and voila! Parent. I know women who struggled to get pregnant, and went down every avenue to have their precious child. Personally, I had a horrendous time throughout the process. Getting pregnant? Took me 3 years. The pregnancy? Well I’ve lost 4 babies, my daughter was born by emergency c-section at 32 weeks, and with my son I was hospitalised from 27 weeks onwards and then his labour was 36 hours long.
Writing is no different. I know writers who sat down, tapped on a keyboard, threw up a great novel, got published and now have writing as a full-time career. I know writers who have an amazing amount of talent but struggle to finish anything. I’ve been rejected numerous times – I kept my very first rejection letter to keep me grounded for when I hit the big time. I went the long route as well. I wrote fiction, but started working as a freelance writer and through that made connections in the publishing industry, which most definitely helped with getting that coveted contract (of which I now have two!)
Pregnancy is a time to nurture. You’re growing a child – a tiny little miracle that begins as an egg and develops into a living, breathing, human being that you can hold in your arms. You’re given a load of advice, lists of Dos and Don’ts, and you don’t know what to believe. Mums who have been there, done that, tell you what it should be like. “Oh I ate blue cheese throughout my pregnancy with little Zak.” Doctors who haven’t ever given birth tell you “Braxton Hicks don’t hurt” (trust me they do). You buy book after book, scour the internet, write a birthing plan… And then that goes out the window the moment your first contraction kicks in.
Writing is the same. You have this seed of an idea that you want to grow into a fruitful career. You care for it, nurture it, develop it. Other writers try to intervene with contradicting advice. “An adverb is telling now showing.” “Adverbs are fine.” “Don’t say she said, he said, tell us how they’re saying it.” “Don’t describe dialogue, it should be obvious.” So you buy book after book, scour the internet, write a plotline… And then the characters take you in a completely different direction.
Giving birth. Oh. My. God. Some women brag how they birthed their children without painkillers, at home, in a car, up a tree… Okay, maybe not up a tree, but you get the picture. Me? Well, an emergency c-section at 32 weeks was not on the birthing plan, and because of the complications I’d had with my son, I wasn’t even allowed to make a plan!
Producing a book? It can be just as painful as labour. There are writers out there who don’t bother editing or getting a Beta-reader, they just through it at an agent and poof! A book appears. They are rare though. Most writers, including myself, finish a novel and then spending longer going through edits than they did writing the original story. I have three trusted Beta-readers, 2 are my highly critical best-friends and 1 is a fellow writer. 2 women and a man. Exactly like in the labour suite – 2 midwives and a very confused husband. I also pay someone to read it and give me an honest critique – she’s a bit like the health visitor. The woman who you trust to give you good advice, because it’s her job.
There you have it. Your new baby. And writers do tend to consider their books as children. But it doesn’t stop there. You don’t give birth and throw it out into the wide world alone. We’re not sharks! Well, not all of us.
Your book goes through the same stages as a growing child. You need to teach it the way of the world, get it out into the open, and show it off. You need to choose appropriate clothing in the form of a book jacket. You need to work with your editor to make it as perfect as possible, teaching it right from wrong. You let other people read it for their critiques.
Parents will ask, “What age should you stop breast feeding?” “When should you potty train?” “Does this look like chicken pox?”
Writers will ask, “Is this a good first chapter?” “Is there a different way I can say this?” “Is this chapter necessary at all?”
If you’re going down the traditional publishing route, it’s a bit like sending your baby off to school. You have to trust that the publisher knows what they’re doing, but if you’re not happy you have every right to ask questions and make suggestions. “What’s that? A bigger title is bullying my book off the shelf?” That’s because that title has an entourage of reviewers behind it. That’s because that title went viral. Sometimes this happens, and there is nothing you can do. You can protect your book, hide it away from the public eye, and hope the big book goes away. Or you can tell your book to stand its ground and prove that they are the better story. Tell your publisher that you’re not happy with the sales and they will give you some advice with regards to marketing and publicity.
Some parents hire a home tutor for their children. Writers should most definitely do some home tutoring themselves – social media, blog tours, media interviews, release blitzes, reviews… It all helps to mould and improve your book’s chances of getting higher up the ladder.
Home-schooling is an option, as is self-publishing. I don’t know much about either of these options. I trust our education system since I work at the local primary school. However, I have ventured into the realm of self-publishing. My first novella was self-published. Like a new parent, I had no clue what I was doing and it was all guess work. It didn’t go so well. But like with a first child, I learned from my mistakes (yeah, us first-borns are always practice kids according to my Mum!) and when Seven Dirty Words was finished, it was a marked improvement. But if you get the advice and do the research, you can be just as good as an established education department or publisher.
Your child has flown the nest. Off to uni, got married and had kids of their own… But they’re still your child. I still ring or text my mum every day for advice or a moan, especially when it comes to parenting and cooking. Yup, you guessed it… Just because your book is published and on the shelf, doesn’t mean you can ignore it.
All those interviews? Connections with your readers? They still need to continue. You still need to be the proud parent, showing it off whenever you can.
My other children