If you’ve ever given birth, you’ve probably heard the old saw that women forget the pain of childbirth. The concept is simple. A new mother forgets because, if she remembered the contractions and the pushing and the panting, she’d never do it again.
What I remember about childbirth is sitting on the edge of my bed chanting to myself, “Don’t forget. Don’t do this again.”
I listened to myself then. I had twins, so that worked out kind of on its own.
I don’t always listen to myself, however. A few years ago, I had the brilliant idea of writing a series of How To posts for this website. One short post per day, for a month, each written the same way – definition, explanation, demonstration – to address a very specific craft element. For 30 days. Did I have 30 craft tips to share? Sure. Could I follow a formula to explain each in a succinct way? Of course. I wrote a few How To posts in advance, as insurance, and announced my 30 Days of How To posts.
On day 20 or so, I sat on the edge of my bed chanting to myself, “Don’t forget. Don’t do this again.” Because writing a blog post 30 days in a row using the same formula is tedious. And I did not count on question and comments, so there was monitoring. I spent those 30 days chained to my desk.
Flash forward a couple of years. I was writing a novel for women, an adventure I had not planned on taking. It started as a short story and grew. I followed the story. During the writing, I immersed myself into novels for and by women, many of which were sitting on my bookcase.
As natural as it may be for a woman to forget the pain of childbirth is the desire for a reader to share what she reads. Hence, Brilliant Idea #2: I would review stories by female authors for this website. I would write mini-reviews, in the same pattern every day: a short synopsis followed by answering the question “Why is this book a good read for women?” I had no trouble finding books to review—all I had to do was turn around and look at my bookcase.
By happenstance, I had this idea on Mardi Gras (day before Ash Wednesday) so I got into gear and made the announcement for 40 Days of Book Praise. No advance planning. No pre-writing of reviews for insurance. I did give myself Sundays off, to regroup, and because I’d learned my lesson from the How To month about putting pressure on myself to perform.
On day 20 or so, I sat on the edge of my bed chanting to myself….
Which brings me today. On Mardi Gras of this year, I made a vow to submit work for the 40 days some people celebrate as Lent. I didn’t do this as penance or for any spiritual reason. I did this because I had fallen off the submission train and I wanted to get back on. With flair. Or a vengeance.
One of the mindset changes in writing a novel, as opposed to writing short works, is separating from submitting. When I wrote short all the time, I submitted all the time. I had a process. Raw draft, rough draft, review by critique group, revise, polish, submit. I could have a new piece ready to go in a month or two. But a novel took years to draft, review, polish. I could not submit it during those years of writing, and while I focused on the novel, I let the short pieces I’d written before linger. My bad. Totally my bad.
Now I am agent hunting for the novel, which is an entirely different type of query. I can’t approach an agent every single day for forty days, so Brilliant Idea #3 meant I could mix querying with submitting short pieces.
Monday was day 20. Guess what I sat on the edge of my bed and chanted to myself?
Submitting is like matchmaking—you have to find the right place for the right piece, and then you negotiate the terms with the yenta/editor (yenitor?) Each submission requires a bio, and because I write different things, I need a different bio for each submission. Selling is part of matchmaking too, so I write a cover letter explaining why this piece and this publication are destined to be together.
And then there are fees. The days of going to the post office with a stack of envelopes and SASEs are over, replaced with nominal (or not so nominal) reading fees. 2 bucks here, 3 bucks there, and now Submittable seems to own my dowry. (But it is far, far better—and cheaper—than the post office.)
The process is exhausting, especially if you do it every single day. Why did I do this to myself again? Didn’t I learn? Won’t I ever learn?
There’s another old saw about childbirth and motherhood: a new mother falls crazy in love with the squalling, smelly, squirmy little thing she pushed out of her body because, if she didn’t fall like a brick, taking care of such a needy creature would be unbearable. The payoff for the pain of childbirth is the baby you love with all your heart.
On Monday, Day 20 of the submission project, in my email came the payoff: a letter of acceptance and a contract.
It made me remember why I keep doing this to myself. I like to be published. I like to teach. I like to support women who happen to be writers. I’m crazy in love with the writing life. Or, maybe I’m just crazy.
So, here is it on the morning of Day 22. I haven’t zeroed in on today’s submission just yet. Will I contact an agent? Will I send out an essay? Will I enter a short story contest? I have until midnight to decide. Only 18 more midnights to go.
Have you ever set yourself up for a challenge that you regretted—or thought you regretted?
7 thoughts on “Why Writing is Like Childbirth”
Love this. Okay if I post a link on Birth of a Novel? Just a link – to share your thoughts, not steal them.
Thank you, Sandra, and of course you may post a link! I’d be grateful.
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Thanks for the reminders of the angst of writing and of why I wait until 8 o’clock Saturday night to do Sunday morning’s post on my blog. Still your novel and how-to babies are wonderful.
Marilyn (aka cj)
PS: I think Mardi Gras means fat Tuesday which follows Lundi Gras “Shrove Monday”
Thanks, Marilyn. That’s why they’re called deadlines!
(Yes, about Mardi Gras. I don’t know what I was thinking–or maybe I just wasn’t!)
Probably the self-commitment thing I fail most at is dietary goals. Less wine, less sugar, more vegetables, more fruits, no white foods – you know. It’s true that if I stick to a sensible regime, I fall in love with my new svelter healthier self. But because I love eating delicious foods and drinking delicious wines so much…well, a year or two later I have to start all over again!
Can you count today’s post as a submission?
I am reminded of “A Beautiful Mind” and his comment about the “diet of the mind” as explaining how he did not allow himself to pursue his own madness. I consider many diets to be exercises in self-destructive behavior, but you are sensible. And yes, delicious food and wine are to be enjoyed. It’s a shame there must be limitations.
I have just completed today’s submission–and it’s not this post!
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I commend you! There were times that teaching six classes a day (and planning, grading, meetings — you know the scene) felt like too much. My department chair reassured us one spring that it would all get done by the last day — it always did. 😉
Another colleague had a poster: Deadlines amuse me. ❤