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Is Your Book Your Baby?

Categories: Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents Blog, Guest Columns, What's New.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard how a book is the writer’s baby, I wonder if it would take the sting out of having written for all these years for nothing but hope and heartburn? Probably not. But no matter, the question is: is it true? Is each story a spawn?

In a word, or three – not at all. Not for me, at any rate.

This has less do to with what I think of my writing than it does with how I think of my children. From the moment I knew they were there, they were never mine. Even earlier than that, before I had any symptoms and before I realized that everything was about to change, the DNA had already merged; the match was in the tinder.

(Meet literary agents who represent mystery novels.)

GIVEAWAY: Jamie is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Laura won.)

 

 

Three-Graces-Full-novel       jamie-mason-author-writer

Guest column by Jamie Mason, author of the debut mystery,
THREE GRAVES FULL (Gallery, Feb. 2012). Kirkus said “Mason’s
quirky debut novel deftly weaves dark humor into a plot that’s as
complicated as a jigsaw puzzle but more fun to put together,” while
Booklist’s starred review said “First-novelist Mason hooks the reader
with her first sentence, ‘There is very little peace for a man with a body
buried in his backyard.’ ” Jamie Mason was born in Oklahoma City, but
grew up in Washington, D.C. She’s most often reading and writing, but
in the life left over, she enjoys films, Formula 1 racing, football, traveling,
and, conversely, staying at home. Jamie lives with her husband and
two daughters in the mountains of western North Carolina.

 

After that, nothing beyond my dumb animal functions of chewing the choicest feed and resting when the hooves and hide told me to was going to make much of a difference. That baby, to an extent, was what it was going to be from the first spark. It was all very much beyond my control.

And no plea or plan I owned had any effect on the inevitability of labor and delivery, that’s for sure.

Making a baby is easy. Writing is hard.

It’s is an act of will, and I’m not exactly known for my flint and iron. As such, I can’t relate tapping at my keyboard and grinding down my teeth to a cosmic roll of the dice and the resultant biological avalanche. My inertia or distraction, thank God, never kept a fetus from growing her fingernails or hooking up her little gall bladder pump to her small intestine.

It really comes down to what I imagine I can take credit for. The word ‘pride’ has never sat snuggly in the hole that each of my daughters has scooped out of my heart. What I feel for them is far purer than what I feel for anything I’ve written. They are a product of all their world, inside and out. My writing is more of me than my children ever could (or should) be. It’s mine. They are not.

(How to create an effective synopsis for your novel or memoir.)

Of course that means a small, bound universe fails in its entirety when I don’t write it right, and it’s all my fault. But I know the difference. Ruin a child and you’ve committed the gravest sin. Ruin a manuscript and, in godlike prerogative, you can stir the deluge, commission an ark, and try it again – albeit perhaps under a new pen name. (And a new agent, if you’ve really mucked it up.)

The biggest challenge in handling my babies is doing it well. With the writing, the fight is more of a joust with the Devil. He whispers sweet stingingly that I don’t have to do it at all. It’s much harder to rouse my artistic diligence than it is to surrender myself to the mostly-happy obligations of family life. Praise for one certainly tingles in an entirely different place than for the other. Same goes for the pain.

Of course, all of this may simply mean that I’m doing it wrong, either the mothering part or the writing. Holy hell, what if it’s both?

GIVEAWAY: Jamie is excited to give away a free copy of her novel to a random commenter. Comment within 2 weeks; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail. You can win a blog contest even if you’ve won before. (Update: Laura won.)

 

500x500_janktom

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20 Responses to Is Your Book Your Baby?

  1. jdmstudios says:

    Crazy comparison…but true! My struggle with writing is hard. I struggle to stay focused and when I get something down, I beat myself up about how awful it is. My kids, at least, seem to think I do a good job :)

  2. JudithR says:

    Interesting perspectives. I’ve never thought of writing as my baby, more like my adversary. Something to be overcome and conquered.

    But I love – LOVE – your analogy: “Ruin a child and you’ve committed the gravest sin. Ruin a manuscript and, in godlike prerogative, you can stir the deluge, commission an ark, and try it again.” Great perspective.

    Means that the writing takes a back seat to rearing the children. Validates the fact that I put off all my writing til my children were grown. (I’m a late bloomer. :-)

  3. sheepwriter says:

    I guess I sort of failed in the baby department. I didn’t back up my novel in progress and my hard drive suffered a major mechanical malfunction.

    The hard drive, along with the infant within, is in California in a sterile data recovery room. Sure hope they can save my baby.

  4. LithuanianBadBoy says:

    Is that the devil who keeps whispering about how I should quit? How I don’t even have to finish what I’m writing? I knew it. That is the hardest part about writing. You hit the nail on the head. All those times I start telling myself how no one will even know that I didn’t finish what I started – that is the main obstacle. I’m glad to see others feel that way.

  5. Yellowapple says:

    I have two adult children and never thought to compare writing a book to having kids! They both require a lot of work, if you do it right. Sooner or later you have to send them out on their own. Only two parallels I can think of. Jamie’s book sounds very intriguing; would love to read it.

  6. Marie Rogers says:

    Interesting point, but maybe when your children are grown you’ll see it differently. For me, parenthood was hard work, trying to give them all the best opportunities and worrying that they would get hurt out in that cruel world. They turned out OK anyway. At least my book baby didn’t talk back or throw tantrums in public. Like with the children, though, when she was as well developed as she needed to be, I worried that maybe she wasn’t ready to leave my loving arms.

  7. LithuanianBadBoy says:

    So, it’s the devil who keeps telling me, “You don’t even have to do this writing thing. Go ahead. Quit.” I was wondering where that was coming from. It was good to see that others have that experience, too. That is the hardest part about writing. No one is going to frown down upon you because you put your writing aside. You can’t say that about deciding to take a break from parenting.

  8. Laura says:

    (I apologize if this comment appears twice; it didn’t post the first time as far as I could see.)

    “Making a baby is easy. Writing is hard.” Sorry, no. I agree with the rest of your points (and have never referred to anything I’ve written as my baby), but this comment seems pretty flippant. Writing IS hard, but not physically impossible. Anyone with the dream and the desire and the will to pursue the craft can learn to write well. Not everyone is physically capable of making a baby.

  9. Laura says:

    “Making a baby is easy. Writing is hard.” No, sorry. While I agree with everything else you’ve said (I’ve never referred to anything I’ve written as being my baby), that comment seems rather flippant. Writing IS hard, but not physically impossible. Anyone with the dream and the desire and the will to pursue the craft can learn to write well. Not everyone is able to make a baby.

  10. atwhatcost says:

    Nah, it’s still my baby. I suspect we merely disagree on the particulars. This isn’t a sweet cuddly little lump of humanity issuing from my womb waiting to suckle on any part of my anatomy offered, which in turn, I will help grow as a productive member of society. I’m either Frankenstein or a small god of a papered universe–depending how it works out.

    I’m putting the baby together, gall bladder included. I’m patching it until it becomes a whole, I’m removing the stitches of that patching, and then sanding down that sucker until it shines. I beat the little darling into submission, and then beat it some more, to make sure it understands its only goal is to but submit and shine, and when that’s done? I’m not offering the darling to the world. I’m selling that baby.

    After all, I’ve already taken perfectly lovely characters–the type found in perfectly lovely little books like Winnie the Pooh, characters I’ve grown to love like you’ve grown to love your child–and then I’ve made their lives living hell. And after that I discovered hell wasn’t hot enough, so I upped the heat and misery. If I’m willing to do that with characters I truly love with all my heart, you honestly don’t think I’ll sell the baby?

    Sorry, I am yet another resident evil. I am a writer. And my novel is my baby. ;)

  11. CC Dowling says:

    I loved this! I love your insights to children vs manuscripts. Thank you for saying it so succinctly.

  12. queerbec says:

    This was a fascinating essay. I never stopped to think of any manuscript as a baby. It’s always been a “work product” that can come from a grueling process that requires an unbelievable amount of self-discipline and self-motivation. A baby requires work and commitment of a higher kind but can produce immediate rewards as well as long term and undefinable anxieties and fears.

  13. Chuck Sambuchino says:

    Just wanted to stop by the comments and thank Jamie for stopping by the GLA blog!

  14. T M says:

    Thank you for the new insight on writing. I recently told a couple of writers in a workshop that their stories are their babies. Now I feel like I should retract that!

    I feel like you’ve served as a catalyst to something else now.

  15. vrundell says:

    Very well stated. It’s far easier to ignore a stale manuscript than a screaming child. Always nice to remember to keep one’s perspective about things.

    As a mother I tend to underdramatize; in writing, I’m afraid it’s the reverse…

  16. kiss_of_revenge says:

    Your outlook on your children & your books just kinda blew my mind. I haven’t had children yet, but I always imagined when I did, I would have something that was so completely mine. I think your words are always gonna stick with me.

  17. Shinteetah says:

    >> Ruin a child and you’ve committed the gravest sin. Ruin a manuscript and, in godlike prerogative, you can stir the deluge, commission an ark, and try it again – albeit perhaps under a new pen name. (And a new agent, if you’ve really mucked it up.) <<

    I love it, all three points: Children matter (even though I have none), and we can always try again with our writing, and we can always write ourselves a new beginning if absolutely necessary. Very reassuring. :)

  18. cemartin2 says:

    I wouldn’t sell my kids. If I was offered sufficient money to surrender all rights to something I wrote, I’d happily part ways. I can always write something else. And I’m in to craft a product, not get famous.

  19. CWherry says:

    I enjoyed this article. Feeling same way about my poetry, it is created by me and the experiences I encounter. Therefore it is my baby, making me strong and responsible for my own craft.

  20. Daria says:

    “Making a baby is easy. Writing is hard.” As soon as I seen this sentence all I could think was so true. Even having babies is easier than writing.

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