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Parenting Your Novel

12 March, 2010

I love analogies. I love to think of everything in terms of something else. Making connections between seemingly disparate ideas and translating concepts from one field to another serves me well in my day job, and it’s one of my favorite ways to tell a story, as well. Since the analogies always make sense to me, I sometimes don’t realize that I’ve gone too far when I realize that everyone in the room is staring at me as though my speech has devolved into Thermian. Here’s one, though, that I’m almost sure isn’t crazy. It came to be as part of a conversation with Lynn about when our novels were going to grow up and start writing themselves, if I recall correctly.

When you start writing a novel, it’s like (I imagine) when you first have a baby. Everything it does seems new and special and exciting, even if those things consist mostly of pooping and crying. Everyone you know is just delighted to hear that you’ve had a baby and they shower you with gifts and say that it’s just absolutely beautiful even if it’s actually a strange pink color and its head got a bit smushed on the way out. This is the part where your family and friends and strangers at the grocery store are all wonderfully supportive, either because they truly think that writing a novel is very exciting or because they think you’re a complete spazz and know you’ll need all the encouragement you can get. You know in your heart that your child will be a doctor-slash-lawyer-slash-astronaut-slash-movie-star, and that your novel will make all of the best seller lists and you will be able to retire from your day job and become a crazy cat lady like you’ve always wanted.

After a few years (or chapters), you’re still fairly excitable when it comes to your child’s milestones. Your closest friends and family are also happy to learn that your child has taken its first steps or is off to its first day of kindergarten or can write its own name, but they’re perhaps not that interested to know that it has yet another dance recital this week and complete strangers don’t want to know that you’re trying a new cream for its butt.

And then you get to the point where you don’t really have time to tell people about what’s going on your child’s life because you’re too busy driving it to this and that, and the years start to line up neatly one after the other, fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade. Your novel is giving you some grief at this point, but you feel like you’re getting the hang of things and you’ve more or less established yourself as the boss of the story.

And then you get toward the end-ish. Not the actual end, but the part before the end, where you can vaguely imagine that in a few more chapters your novel will be complete, except you have absolutely no freaking idea how to get it there. You don’t really care whether it grows up to be an astronaut, you would just like it to stay out of jail.

This is the part where, as I said to Lynn, all your novel will say to you is “I don’t WANT to” and “that sounds BORING” and “I want to date inappropriate men!”. My novel is at that stage, and I spent several hours last Tuesday wandering aimlessly around the apartment taking things out of closets, grumbling under my breath, and generally driving my poor boyfriend crazy.

Full disclosure: I haven’t actually had any children, so this could be complete bullshit, but I like it anyway. Also, I’ve never actually finished a novel, so I can only assume that at the end, your novel turns out perfectly and your child does become an astronaut and everyone lives happily ever after. With Lynn’s help, I got past the scene that I was fighting with, so I’ve survived to write another day and get another few hundred words closer to finding out.

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