Imagine being a first time mother. You’ve been pregnant for months and doing all the right things: sleeping well, eating healthy, exercising, going to regular doctor appointments and watching your baby grow in sonogram pictures. You’ve tried out different names, prepared his room with all he’ll need when he comes home and readied yourself by reading lots of parenting books. By the time that kid is born, you’ve already known him for months, made tremendous efforts to insure his health and well-being and put him first in every way. So when you gaze at him, all pink and pudgy and wrinkled and loud, of course he is perfect.
Now hand him to someone else and ask what they think of him, what’s wrong with him and how he could be made better.
Right now, my book–which I started in 2013, finished in 2015, queried until 2016 and then put away–has been updated, deepened and edited again, and is out to beta readers to see if the changes work. And I’m waiting. But I’m not just waiting for them to give me the thumbs up. I’m waiting for their judgment. They’ll list their criticisms, issues and problems with the book, the book I love and have worked on for years and feel is as good as it’s ever been. Talk about nerve-wracking.
Anyone who’s written a book knows it’s a seemingly endless process. You take an idea, outline it (maybe), and write a draft. Then you go through and edit to make it better; you flesh out your characters, work on dialogue to make them sound like real people, increase the tension in each scene and then give it to some folks to read and critique. You wait for their feedback.
Then you take that feedback and make more changes and do this a few times, back and forth with reading, and changing and waiting. Then, if you’re lucky, you’ll get it to a point where you don’t just love the story, but are really happy with it as a final product. Even more than you were before. That means you’re ready to submit it to agents. So you write to them, and you wait. If you’re really lucky, agents will ask to read the book, so you send it to them. And then you wait.
If you haven’t seen the pattern yet, I’ll spell it out for you: writing a book involves a lot of waiting and a lot of judgment. I was never a patient person, or one who takes criticism well, but writing has cured me of both these ills.
This is why writing isn’t for the faint of heart. All the waiting and judgment and fixes and more waiting and more judgment with no guarantee it will ever go anywhere means you’d better love your stories and characters, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time with them. You’re also going to have to make yourself vulnerable, pour your heart into your work and then ask people to tell you what’s wrong with it even though, to you, it’s perfect.
Writing, like parenting, is a labor of love and authors are in it for the long haul. We don’t do it for a quick buck, or the immediate gratification of getting our books into readers’ hands. It’s about doing everything we can to tell our stories in the best possible way. There will always be critics. So you’ll grow a thicker skin and you’ll work harder.
Neither your child nor your book will ever mean as much to anyone as they do to you, but that won’t matter. To you, they will always be evidence of your love, best efforts and unending patience.