This month, thirteen years ago, was a season of terror. No, not Halloween. Pregnancy. I was in the final month of my first full-term pregnancy and I was waiting for disaster. There was no way, I thought, this was going to be okay. A long string of English literature classes in college and graduate school with a focus on Victorian novels had me well prepared to die in childbirth. The miscarriage I’d had a year and a half earlier had me convinced that this baby would be snatched away from me at any moment, without warning. And even if those things didn’t happen–even if all my doom-and-gloom fear of loss came to nothing, even if everything went beautifully and magically–at the end of that month I was still facing the daunting fact that I would be in charge of the life of a human being who would be utterly and completely dependent on me for everything it needed to live. I was a mess.
This month, this year, is a new season of terror. Again, not Halloween. Oh, and not pregnancy either because, my friends, that ship has not only sailed it has disappeared over the horizon, been commandeered by pirates, and has been sunk in a battle at sea. No, this year I’m agonizing over the fact that I have managed to complete the draft of a young adult novel. Do you want to know what’s going through my head, right now, as I write this? “I am never going to post this ever because I can’t tell anyone I’ve done this because what if it comes to nothing and it’s awful and it’s bad and no one wants to read it and it’s an utter and total failure?”
I find the line of panic in my brain very similar to my inner voice during my pregnancy, only it was, “I am never going to actually have a baby because I’m going to die or the baby is going to die or something is going to go wrong and someone will take the baby away from me because how can I be responsible for another human life when I can barely remember to feed the cats?” This is, in so many ways, soothing though, because I can tell you right now that line of panic in my brain during my pregnancy was so full of shit it should have been labeled “manure pile.” I did not die in childbirth, the baby was born healthy (if jaundiced), I was fully able to care for her from the moment she was born until this day, and she has grown into the most amazing almost-thirteen-year-old girl . . . or is it young woman now? It’s certainly almost-teenager . . . and that way madness lies, so back to the book.
Having pretty clear proof that my panic-brain litany about childbirth and parenthood was a crap shack of nonsense, I can extrapolate that my panic-brain litany about this book may also be less-than-trustworthy. On top of which, so what if the book comes to nothing and it’s awful and it’s bad and no one wants to read it and it’s an utter and total failure? I will still have written a book. A book that I happen to like. And a book I hope you will want to read.
Because those of you who follow this sporadic blog are my best and most wonderful readers, I thought I’d tell you all about this first. Yet please understand that I am as reluctant, if not more so, to reveal this news than I was to reveal my pregnancies. It’s funny. Everyone in the know about pregnancy tells moms and dads to hold off on telling anyone about it until after the three month mark, because then the chances of miscarriage are less. That advice never worked for me. I tried it for my first pregnancy and spent two and a half months freaking out my students and friends by just being sick all the time. Then I miscarried, and had to miss a few days of work. Might I say that telling people, “I was pregnant, but now I’m not,” is probably the most awkward conversation I’d ever had?My students were incredibly sympathetic, and told me that they were glad I told them because they all thought I had mono–the illness a bunch of college students would assume when they saw someone who was exhausted all the time, vaguely ill, and kind of out of it. My colleagues had no idea what to say. They just kind of gave me a wide berth. So I thought, “Next time this happens to me, if it does, I’m telling everyone right away to avoid this nonsense.”
I think I’m trying to take the same advice with the book. I don’t want to be sitting on this for months and years, having everyone wonder why I’m withdrawing from many of my volunteer activities and hermiting up in my house. For all intents and purposes I’ve spent the past two years at home being a stay-at-home-mom, which most folks translate into professional volunteer. And don’t get me wrong, I love my volunteer activities–Girl Scout Leader, Vacation Bible School Coordinator, School Auction volunteer, Homeroom Mom. They get me out of the house, give me opportunities to socialize, make me feel like I’m doing something concrete that has a set start time and end time. Plus, I get to be closer to my kids which is never a bad thing.
Writing, on the other hand, is right now incredibly amorphous. Granted, I’ve finished one book, but now it’s going to my close-knit family–my husband, my daughter, my writing partner C., and hopefully a few others who will give me feedback to let me know how I can make it better. Then I’ll have to do edits. All the while I’ll be working on a second book in the series, and short stories to send out to a variety of publications, and maybe essays. Also, this blog. Then I’ll have to get into the business end of publishing–seeing if anyone wants the books I’ve written. I might have to go to conferences. I might have to network. I might have to travel. Who knows what lies ahead?
One thing I do know is that I am not going to hide this or lie about it. When my friends want to know what I’m doing with my time now that I’m not teaching any more, or doing the nine-to-five thing, or volunteering every spare hour of my day, I want you to know that I’m writing. I’m following the dream I’ve had since I was seven years old and started scribbling story ideas in journals. I’m battling the internal censor that tells me I’m not smart enough, or good enough, or talented enough to succeed at this new endeavor. And I’m doing that by just sitting at my computer, a few hours every day, and working on my craft without any thought to where it will lead or what it will bring me. Because the simple act of writing has already brought me so much joy, that’s pretty much all I’ll need.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that books really are like babies. They’re terrifying when they’re new, leading us to worry about whether we can actually handle this new and beautiful thing God has given us. We are afraid to tell people about them, because what if something happens and it all comes to nothing? But then, after awhile, people start to notice that we’re changing a bit–we’ve withdrawn a little from the world. We don’t do the things we used to do. We get a bit distracted. Then, the day comes and gestation is finished. This creation is here. And it’s full of promise, and potential, and beauty, and grace–and we really, really don’t want to screw that up. So we fuss and we dither and we worry some more.
And then, after a bit of time, we come to realize that what happens, happens. It’s completely out of our hands. This beautiful work of art that we love soul-deep begins its own life. We guide it, and we shape it, and we take and make suggestions to try to guide it down paths where it will be successful and noticed and loved by folks other than us. Sometimes we’ll feel it’s being overlooked, that people just don’t see its worth. Sometimes we’ll be amazed by how much people like it, how much promise and potential it is realizing. Sometimes we’ll be devastated when it’s critiqued and lambasted and its future seems uncertain. Sometimes it makes it where we want it to go. Sometimes it doesn’t.
But in the end all that matters–or all that should matter–is that we got to spend time living with this amazing creation we have had a hand in bringing to the world. And whether it succeeds or fails, or when it succeeds then fails (or fails then succeeds), we’ll love it just as much because, from beginning to end, it’s ours. And as long as we just begin every day with gratitude for its presence in our lives, with no expectations or demands or commands other than that it just be what it is, well, that’s a recipe for a happy life. Whether it’s with a novel or an almost-teenager.