How Writing Is Like Having Children

Guest Blogger: Shannon Stewart

“I know it’s better,” I sobbed to my husband over a recent revision. “But it’s not what I planned. It’s like you spend your whole life hoping your kid will like reading and all she wants to do is play sports. It’s good—I know it’s good—but it’s still hard to take at first.”

I’m not the only one to compare the pain and joy of writing to having children. Puritan poet Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) called her book of poetry “Thou ill-formed offspring of my feeble brain.” Girl, I feel you.

Kids and Books

Photo © amelaxa • Fotolia

I waited to pursue writing seriously until after I had children, and as a young mother and a fledgling author, I see many parallels between parenting and writing. The upshot of this is that some of the lessons that have helped me most with parenting have also encouraged my writing. Here are a few of those lessons:

  1. Information Overload. One day I decided to dabble in a bit of online research about one parenting question. Just a casual toe-dip in the metaphorical waters. Well, that toe-dip quickly turned into a rocket-powered plunge to the crushing depths of the Internet sea, and my casual question became certainty that I was killing my baby. The information was simply overwhelming. What’s more, not all of it was helpful, and a lot of it conflicted. It was easy to compare, coming up mostly inadequate. And fear, the chosen rhetoric of much online parenting advice, crouched behind each hyperlink.

Ever since reluctantly joining Twitter and meeting other authors there, I have felt much the same about writing advice. My new friends all post articles, writing tips, and 140-character tales of their successes and woes. This, too, can be overwhelming. Once again, it’s easy to compare, coming up mostly inadequate (“How can she write that many words per day AND find time to tweet?”). And though these articles are usually way more supportive than the parenting ones, I still end up fearful that I’m doing it wrong.

Many different people parent many different ways. Both co-sleepers and Baby Wise kids all grow up and go to college. What you have to do is find what works for you and then humbly follow that course. Stop second-guessing yourself. Same with writing. Advice is just that: advice. It’s not a list of rules I have to follow. If it works for me, great. If it doesn’t, humbly toss it.

  1. Control Freakism. I wanted to supervise everything about my firstborn’s life, sure that I could have exactly the child I wanted if I controlled everything that influenced her. Turns out she isn’t quite the tabula rasa I assumed. She is a little person with her own little preferences. No amount of micromanaging will change the fact that she innately likes Dragons Love Tacos when I just don’t get it, or that she doesn’t want to play in the sensory tub I made her because it will get her hands dirty. But here’s the thing: it’s those surprises that I never could have managed or controlled that end up bringing me the most joy (or at least humor).

Ironically, this is what’s killing me about my story right now. I thought my story would be the place I could be completely in control. But my characters die when I thought they would live. They live when I thought they would die. The book itself ends up needing to be different than my original vision cast it. And that has to be okay.

  1. Pressing in. When my story changes in the above unexpected ways, it’s hard for me to accept those changes. I think I’ve had two-ish rewrites of my current WIP simply because I kept trying to fit what the story was trying to become into its original mold. It didn’t work, and it ended up with some logical fallacies I’m now having to fix…by rewriting. Again. Letting it be what it wants to become. Gah.

What has helped me most to accept these needed changes is some parenting advice from one of my favorite parenting books, Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2010]:

It is like all my children have a growth spurt at the same time and develop new needs. This is only a problem when Mom doesn’t have a growth spurt herself. It’s even more of a problem when Mom refuses to have one, and demands that everyone else get back into clothes that are too tight. Just like the wine and the wineskins, you can’t make the old schedule work with the new needs.

Yes, yes, you’re right, Rachel Jankovic. You’re always right, and I love you. I guess I’ll rewrite it one more time.

So in conclusion, always co-sleep with your story or it won’t grow up to love you, but also let it cry it out or it will never be brave enough to be published.

I’m kidding. But my story is a lot like a child. It misbehaves sometimes. It causes me to agonize over whether I know what I’m doing at all. It brings pain, even anguish, but also deeper levels of joy than I could have imagined. And, if I cultivate the right relationship with it, it will grow into its own, an entity I will look at with respect and pride and say, “How can it be mine?” But until then, I hope that writing and parenting together will make me better at both.
Shannon StewartShannon Stewart is a high school English teacher with an MA in English Literature still curled in its mail tube in her closet. The real prize, her love for British fiction, is on exuberant display in her classes each week. So far, she’s completed several of her life goals: naming her two children after fictional characters, getting her husband to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and completing her first WIP, the fantasy Callia-Born, this year.

4 comments on “How Writing Is Like Having Children

  1. Shannon,

    Your intuitive, and yet personal analysis has fostered encouragement in one who has left a trail of abortive attempts at writing. Your analogies resonated, and yes…old wineskins were never intended to hold new wine; whether they be schedules, or allowing oneself to view things from a fresh perspective.

    Thanks again. Much appreciated.

  2. Ugh, I hear you. I’ve been reading about how to write to market–and I’m looking at two finished stories and shaking my head, because they’re not. Not sure what to do, except toss them out there anyway. I do love them so.

    I’ve found that certain types of outlining help me find my story early on, so I don’t have to rewrite so much. I’ve used James Scott Bell’s LOCK technique, and I’ve really clicked with one called Take Off Your Pants (get it? Pantsing? Plotting?). I still have to rewrite chunks and add scenes and subtract scenes, but I get there faster than I used to.

    • Ooo! I want to look into those outlines. I have just recently realized that, despite having thought of myself as a plotter all these years, I am a pantser–because all my drawn-out plans were made not according to any structure or goal, but what I had pantsed (did I just make up that verb?) over years. It was easy to mistake for plotting. But it has led to so… many… rewrites… I’m ready for more structure. I want to be where you describe in your last sentence.

  3. This is such a great analogy! I love Rachel Jankovic too, and that book, 😀 and the wineskins analogy is such a wonderful metaphor for my most recent rewrite. I’ve definitely tried to stick my story back in the old wineskins way too many times. I think this new draft may FINALLY be the new wineskin it needs. 🙂

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