Why Writing a Book Is Like Having a Baby

Every story is a living thing. Experienced readers know this. But sometimes writers forget it. Sometimes we act like our story is a piece of IKEA furniture, and if we don’t understand where all the screws go right after we get it out of the box, it must be because the product itself is shoddy.

But because stories are alive, they are also unpredictable. They materialize through the intelligent design of their own, unique cycle of growth.

We writers have a lot less control than we think we do.

Writing a book is very similar to bringing a child into the world. When you get the first ultrasound pictures, you’re happy and excited. Look at that little blobby thing! That little blobby thing is uniquely yours! But…the truth remains. It does appear to be nothing more than a little blobby thing.

That’s a story in the first stages of growth. It might still be just an idea in your head, or a couple of character sketches, or maybe even the first—very sloppy—chapter you scribbled down last weekend. But there’s potential. You can see where this thing is headed. Maybe you can envision the ending, or the impact it might have in your chosen genre. Maybe you see yourself writing the sequel already, or how it would look in movie form on the big screen.

The potential you see in your story is just like the potential parents see in the first ultrasound pictures they get of their baby.

But parents-to-be are usually much more realistic than writers. Because parents-to-be accept their little blobby baby in its present form. They know it would be useless and absurd to push it to grow now, grow faster, to already be enrolled at Harvard on full scholarship.

If you met an expectant mother who told you she was currently filling out the application form for her fetus to go to Harvard, wouldn’t you think she was crazy?

That’s the writer who has just written their first chapter and already despairs that their book is not going to measure up to War and Peace.

The truth is that we don’t know what our books will be until we write them. And just like a child, the creative growth of a book comes in gradual stages. That’s why—just as it is for parents—patience is one of the most essential skills a writer can cultivate.

And patience is not gritting our teeth and just getting through it. It’s not tapping our foot and constantly checking our watch to count how many minutes have gone by. Patience is slowing down, taking a deep breath, and looking around at our present location. It’s making the commitment to accept the present moment and find the wisdom offered to us in it.

Because, just like in the case of parents, our children will grow up too fast. And we will never get to experience the heady excitement and uncertainty of writing that particular story, ever again.

Take a moment this week to acknowledge where you’re at in your current writing journey, and then take another moment to truly appreciate it.

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5 Comments

  • Reply Phillip McCollum 14 April, 2014 at 10:33 am

    This analogy hits close to home on both respects. 🙂 Thanks for the reminder to be patient, Lauren.

  • Reply James Stone 14 April, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    Thank you Lauren,

    You hit the nail right on the head. My recent and very first attempt at a novel started out gangbusters. I’m still in love with it, but I find myself beating myself up because I struggle to see very far ahead. I honestly don’t know where the story will ultimately end up even though I’ve got some ideas bouncing around in my head. Thank you for giving me permission to allow these things to gestate until the time is right. Great post. very practical for me.

  • Reply James Stone 14 April, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    I’m so sorry LAUREN, before I even edited myself, I hit “Post” and didn’t realize until after that I misspelled your name. Please forgive.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 14 April, 2014 at 12:33 pm

      No worries James! I fixed it 🙂

      And I’m really happy to hear this post resonated for you. I do have to say, if you’re still in love with it, I definitely wouldn’t give up on it. When you’re in love with a story, it won’t ever let you rest until you bring it into the world in some form.

  • Reply Marie Ann Bailey 16 April, 2014 at 5:07 am

    Perfect line: “That’s the writer who has just written their first chapter and already despairs that their book is not going to measure up to War and Peace.” I struggle with this all the time and have to continually remind myself to slow down, be patient. Fortunately my drive to write is greater than my despair at what I’ve written 🙂

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