You’ve probably heard the analogy that writing a novel is like birthing a baby. You might have also heard indignant mothers–or even writers who are also mothers–screech with horror that writing a novel is most certainly nothing like birthing a baby, that birthing a baby is MUCH, MUCH harder. I mean, nobody takes a shit in front of a huge crowd of people when writing a book, do they?
Um, isn’t that exactly what novelists do? I’ve written a novel, and I sure feel like I’ve grunted and strained and gone all red-faced and sweaty while letting loose some steaming piles of unintentional ugliness alongside a tiny sliver of profound beauty.
Writing a novel is exactly like birthing a baby. There’s even blood. One time I slipped and cut my thumb while chopping carrots because I was totally lost in thought about a specific character arc. I bled, people, okay? THERE WAS BLOOD.
There is pain. A lot of pain, and yes, maybe it is “only” psychological pain, but it hurts nonetheless. Pouring your most secret self into character after character is painful. And therapeutic, too, I guess, but it’s a sick kind of therapy.
There is fear. “I’ve spent two years of my life on this, ignored my husband, shushed my kids, neglected my physical health, TORE APART MY SOUL to make this book happen and WHAT IF NO ONE LIKES IT???” This fear, unlike most fears we have during pregnancy, is a substantiated one. It is far more likely than not that our beloved book babies will go unnoticed by the masses and slip into quiet obscurity.
There is madness. Once, when I was pregnant, I flew into a hormonal rage and threw a metal step ladder across a room, then sank to the cold tile floor and sobbed in the fetal position for twenty minutes. The first time my friend Meghan critiqued my “finished” rough draft — just the first chapter! That’s all she did! — I folded into a quivering puddle right there at my laptop, my tear-stained cheek pressed against my dining table, snot running unchecked onto the tablecloth, arms hanging limp at my sides as if I were a tranquillized chimpanzee. My husband came home and found me like that and rushed over, all “OH MY GOD, KRISTEN, DID SOMEONE DIE??”
Madness, I tell you.
Meghan’s edits were totally reasonable, by the way. Later, once the crazy had passed, I read over her suggestions again and couldn’t quite understand why I’d reacted like such a fucking lunatic.
Ah, no, of course I understand. It’s because our books are our babies. It hurts — physically — to witness our babies be torn apart.
When I first read Meghan’s book a couple of years ago, it was still a rough draft. I didn’t know Meghan that well and she just sort of tossed the draft to me like, “Let me know what you think. I know I still have a lot of work to do, but whatever.”
I couldn’t even critique it. I was so amazed by the fact that I KNEW A PERSON WHO HAD WRITTEN A BOOK. I mean, oh my god, I had no idea all this craziness was inside this gentle person with whom I’d been swapping the occasional blog critique. I mean, this woman had A WHOLE OTHER WORLD INSIDE HER BRAIN. A beautiful world with twisted, demented, sweet, selfless, psychotic characters, all so engagingly and horrifyingly told. There were parts that made me want to puke. Parts that made me horny. (I have a thing for psychos, apparently. Who knew?) Parts that made me question Meghan’s soundness of mind. I just…I had very little critique to offer at that moment, because I was just too fucking impressed to be critical.
I was on my own path, though, with this little spark of an idea kind of pinging around in my head. I remember telling Meghan about it, I was so embarrassed, sure it was completely lame, but she said, “You’d better write that shit. If you don’t, I will.”
She sent me a bunch of links to various “how to write a novel” websites to get me started. Then I read Stephen King’s On Writing, followed some awesome “how to write” bloggers, bought a bunch of writing lectures, and watched Brian Sanderson’s YouTube lectures (it was like I went to school for writing for free, people). My characters started taking shape. Their voices began poking me in the brain.
One day I told Meghan that I didn’t think I was ready to write yet, that I still wasn’t good enough, but that my characters wouldn’t leave me alone. She said, “Then you’re ready. It’s time to start writing.” And so, with her constant, unwavering encouragement, I began to write. The book is finished, and I am certain I could not have written my book without her support. Meghan was, and continues to be, my book doula.
As I continued to educate myself about novel writing, I found that upon later reads of Meghan’s first novel, I was able to offer more criticism. We began trading chapters or whole sections of each other’s books, offering opinions on character development, setting, theme, subtext, sentence structure, word usage, sometimes spending ten or fifteen minutes debating the perfect word for a single sentence.
I’ve read Famished three times. I had the honor of witnessing and coaching and cheering as Meghan pushed this book baby out of her sick and twisted brain. She would have done it on her own without me, because she’s a rockstar like that, but I feel so very privileged to have played a teeny-weeny part in this incredible book, the first in Meghan’s Ash Park series. It’s her baby. Her dark, sick, and twisted baby. Go buy it, and prepare to be disturbed.