THE BEST-WORST METAPHOR YOU’RE EVER GONNA’ GET

Your book is your child.

There. I said it. That’s the metaphor. Pretty sagacious, huh? It took me a long time to think of that one. I’m going to be using this metaphor incessantly throughout this blog, so I need you to bear with me.

You may agree or disagree with me at first glance, but I’m warning you, if you continue to nurture the stupid thing (i.e., watch it grow, carefully choose its adverbs, spend countless hours worrying about the company of characters it keeps, and finally give it a name), you’ll want to keep it. Or, rather, it will want to keep you.

“But that’s not me, Hannah,” you say. “I’m not a writer! I’m a dabbler—a first-rate master of the puttering arts.”

So you say.

Just you wait, Henry Higgins. Give it enough time. The more time you spend with it, the harder it will be to deny the truth. Novels tend to have a way of clinging to you, perplexing and beguiling you and entwining their way into your soul. As Boromir would say, “One does not simply remain casual about a masterwork.”

Your book is your baby, whether you wanted it or not. Books are like real children insomuch as you may hate them as a species, but yours is somehow different. Better. Untouchable. Beyond reproach. Any artist can attest that looking into the face of something you’ve created has a peculiar, deistic feeling about it.

“Mommy, feed me!” it shall cry. “Pay attention to me! Edit me! Read me for the umpteenth time and tell me all about how great I am! I want another fight scene.”

“But you had a fight scene last chapter,” you’ll say.

Stormbreaker got back-to-back fight scenes.”

“Well, if you really feel that way, you can go live with Anthony Horowitz.”

Your story will slink up on you as you dream, spelunking its way into your heart with little paper teeth.

“Fine,” you say. “I confess: I love it. I think it’s the greatest thing ever and I derive immense joy in watching it grow and succeed.”

To that I say: “Good.”

Good. You should have some pride in accomplishing something. My dear friend, you are fashioned in the very image of God—the Creator of the Universe, the Master Author of Time itself. Why wouldn’t you find pleasure in imagining and creating your own stories? If you didn’t care about this or never became attached to your work, I’d tell you to get yourself a new business.

It’s evolutionary simple: Helpless newborns with doting mothers survive their infancy. Those who are abandoned die. Or get eaten—one of the two.

Admit it. You’re in love, and you sure as cuss better be, because things don’t get any easier from here. You can’t just write a novel. You have to develop it.

I have seen countless mothers bawling over their toddling tykes on the first day of school. There’s gurgling and snuffling and the most pitiful, coddling wails. If the poor kid could have started kindergarten with a suit of armor, you bet your britches Mommy Dearest would have bought him one.

I say “poor kid” because that’s exactly what he is. In the throes of mommy’s glitter-studded infinity scarf, I see it in his eyes—he’s anxious. Excited. Longing. Yearning. The kid wants to be free to do something great, to go out and try on the world for the first time. He wants to make friends, stack himself up amongst his peers, and discover—truly, for the first time—what he’s made of.

He’s scared (Of course he’s scared! It’s the jungle.), but he’s as ready as he will ever be. And, most ironically, he will never be truly ready, no matter how long his mother keeps him homebound.

Let’s shimmy on down to the gist, shall we? GET YOUR NOVEL CRITIQUED. Send it out to beta readers. Get other people’s opinions. Join a writing group. For the love of Freyja, mention it casually in a passive conversation.

I know how terrifying it is to let a book child go. I know what it’s like to watch it walk, hand-in-hand, off into the distance with a complete stranger, knowing that the aforementioned stranger is going to prod, critique, dismember, and otherwise demolish the years of self-confidence you’ve instilled into your work.  The stranger will hurt your feelings. She will hurt your child’s feelings. You will take up arms and fight the stranger’s critiques tooth-and-nail, all the while battling the squirmy, sinking feeling in your stomach.

Though you’d never admit it openly, the feeling tells you that the stranger is probably right. Your dear little poopsykins isn’t perfect after all.

Your child will be torn to pieces, and many times, those pieces will be mailed back to you in small plastic baggies for you to puzzle back together. It’s grizzly and it’s eldritch. It’s horrible and it’s heart-wrenching. But, if you surrender the Precious to the critics—give it room to make mistakes, develop stylistically, and mature into its own right…

I promise that you and your book child are going to grow.

In his book, On Writing, Stephen King speaks in length about “killing your darlings”—i.e., learning how to let go of those things you may love about your child, but are ultimately holding it back from becoming the masterpiece it was born to be. It’s not easy, and believe me when I say that it never gets any easier. In many ways, it’s lacking hacking limbs off of a screaming infant.[1]

Some people are better at this than others. Personally, I’ve come a long way from a blubbering, wounded heap, but I’ve learned to adapt. When I have to hack off an arm or a leg, I do so with the most optimistic of outlooks, saving the severed piece in a file called “The Island of Misfit Toys.” If it’s on the Isle, it’s not really “gone,” is it? It’s just waiting. Resting. Taking a breather before its glorious day in the sun.

I return to the Isle frequently, and more than once, I’ve brought something back with me. A certain heartless serial killer metamorphosed into matronly vampire slayer. A discarded intro ended up being rewritten in the perspective of fruit bats and repurposed into the best novel I’ve ever written.

Just because your work needs work does not mean that it’s ready for the trash.

If we behaved that way with our real children, the streets would be plagued with bawling, stinky bins of naughty toddlers.

Just as a child needs love, patience, and guidance, so does your book. Accept it for what it is, and drive it to be better. Work with it. Have patience. Maturity takes time, and your writing is no exception.

Your novel is never going to be perfect. It’s never going to be ready.

If you’re waiting for absolute perfection to bring your book into the world, it will never see the light of day.

[1] For the record, I’ve never hacked a limb off a screaming child. Waltzing with hyperbole, folks.

Photo by Ilya Yakover on Unsplash

h.kates

H. Kates is a war gamer turned author. Her middle grade fantasy, PATEL PATTERSON AND THE APOCALYPSE KEY, debuts... Eventually.

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