…when they finish the first draft. You’d be unusual if you didn’t. Writing is a highly personal, even intimate exercise. So much of what we write, even if science fiction or fantasy is really about us. You’ve undoubtedly included—albeit hidden—your personal traits in the characters, from how the main protagonist scratches an itch, to the getaway car running over a cat: you hate cats.
However, if you’ve ever seen a baby coming into this world, you know that the new, perfect, adorable, newborn who makes us cry for joy is actually a bloody mess. We clean them up a bit, swaddle them in a soft pastel blanket, and cuddle them. Then there’s that first poop. For those not familiar, Google “meconium,” but don’t click on images!
For at least the first year, every feeding has a burp and half of burps are throw-ups. There are diapers and runny noses. You’re thrilled when they start to crawl until you realized that puts everything in their reach. When they begin the walk, we rejoice, then cower in fear.
As they get older there are abrasions and lacerations, blood and torn skin. Childhood colds, stomach upsets and upchucks… and for the girls… womanhood.
Driving. (I think that gets its own paragraph.)
While you’re going through it, you’re not focused on the final product. You want each stage to go smoothly, though it doesn’t. You grin—or drink—and bear it. At some point, often at departure for university, the military, or into the work-force, we trust that we accomplished the best we could. We let go.
So, is this a massive metaphor, or an allegory?
If you’re punching through your first manuscript, know that the newborn in your word processor is a bloody mess and there are a dozen tasks to accomplish before it’s ready to go out in the world.
Self-editing. An alpha-reader. Rereading and more self-editing. Rewrites. Addition or deletion of characters. A beta-reader or two. A professional editor. Rewrites, revisions, rethinking the message, self-doubt, screaming into the night. More self-editing. Rinse, lather, repeat.
The first draft is no more a readable novel than a newborn is a functional person. As fed up as you may get with a project, you can’t publish it until it’s able to house, clothe, and feed itself. Take a rest if you must, but abandoning it isn’t a viable option. It will haunt you. If it doesn’t, or if you didn’t cry when you finished that first draft, perhaps your heart and soul weren’t into it. Or maybe you’re writing steam-punk.
In closing, here are the advantages a writer has over a biological parent:
- If your work fails, no one gets hurt. Your ego may be bruised, but there’s no substantive downside.
- You can put a writing project on hold, leave it for a month or a year, and come back to it when the muse returns; you can’t do that with a child, as tempting as it often is.
- There is no penopause. You can give birth to a new novel, novella, short story, or haiku at any time in life and bring it into the world hermaphroditically.
Enjoy writing. Revel in the journey knowing you’ll reach the inn in time.