A friend forwarded me a link to a great new blog called Book Pregnant which records the experiences of a bunch of debut authors as they publish their first novels. Emblazoned on the first page is a quote from C.S. Lewis: “I was pregnant with book as a woman is with child.”
As any writer can tell you, sending that first work out into the world –whether it’s a novel, a memoir, short story or essay – can seem as painful as delivery (or as you might imagine delivery to be). Your work is, in so many ways, your baby: you love it, you smother it with attention, it keeps you awake at night, it demands more of you than you think you can give. It can be tedious or intoxicating or inspiring or soul-sucking at any given moment on any given day.
Recently I’ve been thinking quite a bit about book pregnancy and how it pertains to actual pregnancy and, more generally, parenthood – I am currently in the final stages of editing my first novel (The House Girl, coming from William Morrow in April 2013) and in the final weeks of my third pregnancy. The end-points of these two babies have somehow, through no brilliant planning on my part, arrived together. As I work through my editor’s final round of comments on one baby, the other baby gives regular kicks to my solar plexus. As I lay in bed worrying about how one baby will fare with reviewers, the other baby does a somersault to remind me he’s there (it’s a boy).
For me, writing fiction and having children have gone together since the very beginning. I didn’t start writing seriously until I was on maternity leave with my first child. I had always written, always, but I fit my writing time into the space left by work and school, and that space was fairly tight. Writing fiction was a hobby, something kind of frivolous, almost a guilty secret – I told very few people that I wrote. For years even my husband thought my late-night typing related to work rather than the trove of stories I kept hidden away in my laptop.
For some reason, all that changed once I became a mother. One factor was time. Maternity leave seemed (after the initial hysterics of caring for a newborn had passed) like the greatest gig ever – I didn’t have to go anywhere, be anywhere, talk to anyone, accomplish anything other than keeping this baby happy and alive. (Don’t ask me about house work – laundry has never factored high on my priority list). While on maternity leave, I cared for my daughter and I wrote, and that was pretty much it.
But, for me, there was something else going on too, more than pure logistics. Parenthood lays you bare. It’s tough to conceal what you care about – truly, madly, deeply love – when it’s attached to your body in a sling. Or demanding another cupcake in a crowded café. Or toddling precariously down a concrete sidewalk. There’s no hiding when you’re a parent, there’s no pretending that this little person doesn’t push every button you’ve got, can make you cry on a dime, gives you the happiest moments, and (let’s be frank) the most frustrating/frightening/tedious ones too.
I suppose that, then, is why parenthood allowed me, finally, to take myself seriously as a writer. To say: this is what I’m doing, this is what I want. Wearing that kind of emotion on my sleeve for my kids made it easier to wear it on my sleeve about my writing too. I loved one baby, I could love my other one too. I could make time for it. I could make it a priority. I could tell people about it, and worry about it, and wonder if I was doing it right. It didn’t seem frivolous anymore; it didn’t seem like a guilty secret. It was something I wanted to celebrate and share.
So as baby number three and book number one both draw to an end – or rather, to the beginning – I’m excited and nervous in equal measure to usher them out into the world. One of them took five years to make and, once the final manuscript is delivered next week, its fate will be largely out of my hands; the other baby took the usual nine months, but my work on this one will last a lifetime.