Birthing Babies, Birthing Books

birth announcementOnce again, I find myself gestating two babies: my book and an actual human child, currently two weeks out from D-Day. This happened two years ago too, smack in the middle of the Novel Incubator. I went to class one Tuesday night, grumpy as all hell, and had a baby screaming bloody murder on our bathroom floor by 8:30 the next morning. (Whoops.)

I wish I could tell you that this year it’s a different book, some new novel that is mystifying and confusing and delighting me. Nope. It’s the same one from last time. (And it’s still mystifying and confusing me at times — my delight in it is wearing somewhat thin.) I had planned to have my final draft done before this baby, our third, arrived. But, life intervened. As it does.

I’ll be the first to admit that my schedule is usually a beautiful thing, for which I am exceptionally grateful. I get to spend big chunks of time with our kids while they are young (they are now three and two) while also carving out time for work. But this year, childcare fell through a chunk of the time. When that happens, my work falls through too. (It’s not how my women-and-gender-studies college self imagined things, but when your partner’s job pays actual money and yours, well, doesn’t, it’s inevitable.) I love our kids and love getting to be with them, but that doesn’t mean it’s not tough to watch weeks ebb by with just a few pages completed here and there. Still, I got one massive new draft completed in August (mama be dead, y’all), but since then have only gotten through another third of the last draft.

It’s disheartening to think that my book is older than my kids. We are bringing our third, entirely unique being into the world very soon and yet, my book is the same one I’ve been working on for years now. The book, of course, is different — we all know the many changes that occur in the course of writing draft after draft. (I try not to think about the hundreds of pages left on the editing floor.) But, the heart and the characters and the drive behind this book’s existence are the same.

But maybe that’s also the heartening part. I started this book so many years ago because I had a story to tell. Back then, I had an opening line and a hazy notion of how two character’s lives would collide. I didn’t know all the settings, funny stories, and amazing characters that would result. I didn’t know all the life that would happen in those pages between the idea and the end — just like I had no notion of the hilarious, insane, thoughtful, and amazing pint-sized towheads that currently rule my world.

For me, the impulse behind the novel and the kids is somewhat the same. There is an urge to create and then the germ of something that you nurture into being. From there, though, you have no idea what form it will take, what will happen along the way, and how long it will be until the job is done. With regards to my kids, I suppose the job will never be done. The novel, though, will end. I will finish it. Not as soon as I had hoped, but it will get done.

Staring into the abyss of adding another kid to our family, I feel my heart race as I imagine the ways a third child will change me, my family, my work. And then, like opening that first blank page of a new draft, all I can do is jump into it, knowing that there are two things I have to do for the next however many years.

Parent. Write.

I can do that.

4 comments

  1. Carol D

    “My book is older than my kids.” Yup, mine too, but we’ll get there. We absolutely will! Just keep going – I can’t wait to read your final draft!

  2. Lisa Birk

    Great piece, Elizabeth! I totally relate! I’m very much looking forward to reading your finished book. It’s going to be great.

  3. Gerald B Whelan

    Don’t despair, Elizabeth! Look at the bright side: you’re a young mother and your novel’s older than your two kids (put together?). I can beat you any day: I’m a grandfather and my novel’s two and a half times as old as my two GRANDkids (yes, put together.) See? you can do it! (Hmm, did that make any sense?)

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