Last week, some of the Cedar City members of Thinking Through Our Fingers met at our local library for a writer’s panel discussion (which was wonderful). The first thing our lovely panel moderator asked us was to share our most important piece of writing advice. Mine was along the lines of every project being different and how it therefore becomes necessary to temper our expectations along the way (i.e., just because book three was a relative breeze doesn’t guarantee that book five won’t be a beast with horns). Each work has its own personality, and I began to think about how in some ways, tending to our “book babies” is a lot like parenting. Not a parent? No worries. These analogies apply to other crazily difficult if not impossible tasks as well. Like domesticating wild zebras. Or learning how to sky-dive into volcanoes.
READING ABOUT IT IS FINE, BUT TO REALLY LEARN HOW TO DO IT, YOU HAVE TO JUST DO IT.
- Prior to becoming a parent, maybe you stocked up on those “What to Expect” or other parenting books (Goodness knows I did). While useful for some technical things (like how to get that dirty diaper off and the clean one on before the baby pees or poops EVERYWHERE), nothing can better make you a better parent except for rolling up your sleeves and actually tackling parenting. Seriously. Despite the best books, you will have those days, weeks, months (or more) where you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, but take comfort in the fact that you are learning more every day (especially from your mistakes), and that you’re doing the best that you can. Because you’re doing it.
- Similarly, you might have a favorite stack of craft books and podcasts and go-to blogs about writing. You may attend writing conferences and workshops to learn about your craft. Yes. DO THOSE THINGS. But in addition to getting ideas, inspiration, and technical details, nothing will teach you more about writing than rolling up your sleeves, sitting your butt in that chair, and writing. And yes, you will have those days, weeks, months (or more) where you feel doubtful about your writing and maybe even question your entire writing career, but take comfort in the knowledge that by actually writing, you are learning more about writing every single day (especially from your mistakes), and that you’re doing the very best that you can. Because you’re doing it.
MAINTAIN REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.
- Even before I became a parent, I had plans. I planned to go the route of natural childbirth for my first child. I read up on it, spoke to my physician and other professionals, and attended classes to prepare myself and my husband for what would hopefully be a memorable experience. Well. What wound up happening was a total of 28+ hours of difficult labor, two separate epidurals, and an emergency C-section that saved both my and my son’s life (talk about the opposite of “natural”)! And the important and special bonding process between mother and baby that’s supposed to happen immediately after birth? I didn’t get to even see him until two days after he was born because we were both recovering from those 28+ hours of trauma. That little guy is now almost ten years old, and I’ve learned to chill out (a little) about my expectations. If he remembers to brush his teeth and comes home from school with a smile on his face, then this is a good day! If he also does his homework and helps around the house and doesn’t argue with me and doesn’t torture his younger brother too much and practices piano without me nagging him 194 times, then that’s an amazing day. The point is not to set low expectations, but maybe it would be better to set realistic ones and understand there are lots (and lots) of things in life that out of your control.
- Oh boy. We expect so much from ourselves as writers, don’t we? We go to conferences, connect with other writers, read about others’ experiences, and educate ourselves as best as we can about what it takes to get published. We hope that people (critique partners, beta readers, agents, editors, and eventually EVERYONE) will read and enjoy and possibly even connect with our stories. Once our book babies are out there in the world, we hope and hope and hope they will do well. I made the emotionally draining mistake with my third published book of having unrealistic expectations. This was the first contemporary story I’d written, it had gotten great pre-release buzz, and so many people worked hard to promote it on release day. Well. This book never did too well, and at first, I let that bring me down. However, I still dearly love that book baby, am currently working on another contemporary story that shall be published later this year, and I’m being careful to not unrealistically inflate my expectations. Since I’ve published my first book, I’ve chilled out (a lot) about expectations. Honestly, as long as I’m still writing, I’m good :). If people read my book and connect with it, that’s amazing. I don’t stress about charts and rankings so much anymore, especially because things like hitting bestseller charts are not in your control and therefore aren’t realistic goals.
SORRY, BUT IT DOESN’T GET ANY EASIER.
- Okay, yes, some parenting things do get easier with experience. With my second child, I figured out how to multitask a bit better (because simultaneously juggling nursing, helping my son with his homework, cooking dinner, and proofreading a manuscript was necessary). However, I had to give up naps because life became much busier, and that was hard. Most importantly, I quickly learned that my kids’ personalities are not the same, and so I’ve had to adjust my parenting style to fit each child — in a way that’s a bit different for each child but hopefully still fair (unless you ask them directly, then nothing in life is fair). But I haven’t even gotten to the teenage years with them yet, so I know it’s going to get harder and harder and that I might not completely survive adolescent boys. Just kidding. We will be great, and when I get more gray hair, it means that I get to color it even more fun colors. But to say parenting becomes magically easier with each kid — just, no.
- Likewise, every writing project is different, and prior experience will make some things easier, but not all. For instance, I don’t cry (nearly as much) when my editor comments that something major in my story needs to be changed. On the other hand, drafting is still that untamed beast with horns that gores me and leaves me bleeding on the ground. Each book has its own personality and its own challenges, and I find that these challenges continually surprise me. Book two was a challenge because it was the first one I wrote from dual POV (one male and one female). Book three was actually a relatively easier and pleasant one for me to write, but it was different because it was contemporary and not fantasy. Book four was a huge challenge because I had to balance two stories that were 500 years apart, but I felt pretty good throughout the process. And here I am writing book five, and it has been the hardest thing I’ve ever written and I want to pull out my hair because of ALL the things. GAH. What a problem child my fifth book has been. But I don’t hate it, and I just have to keep reminding myself that this story has its own personality and challenges. But to say that writing becomes magically easier with each project — just, no.
IT’S WORTH IT. (ALSO, DON’T BE TOO HARD ON YOURSELF!)
- At the end of the day, I might be hoarse from yelling and my house might be in danger of being classified a Federal Disaster Area, but being the mom of my two creative, hilarious, energetic, and sweet boys is so worth it. Some days I feel like I still know pretty much nothing about parenting, but I know a lot more than I did before I held my first baby.
- Similarly, writing may make me frustrated, sleep-deprived, feel like a failure, give me anxiety or at the very least, Imposter Syndrome, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it. I know a lot more about writing than I did when I was slogging through my first manuscript.
- Writing books and being a parent are two of the most challenging things I’ve ever done (and my former graduate school advisor is still mad at me because I told him that getting my Ph.D paled in comparison in difficulty to either of these things). Whether we choose to become parents and/or writers, zebra domesticators and/or volcano skydivers, these difficult tasks that we take on require us to continually build up our abilities with experience. But as long as we acknowledge and embrace that there’s always more to learn, I think we will all be okay.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST: HOPE
Even though there have been many, many moments in recent days when it has been a struggle, the last lesson I want to share is this: HOPE. Raising my children requires that I maintain hope, for their happiness, for their lives, for their education and future prospects, and for the world that I leave behind for them. My children are my ultimate inspiration to keep fighting for a better future, and I will continue teaching them about important things such as inclusion, diversity, and how we should speak up and act when we see the need for change. Similarly, as writers, we have the power to write meaningful stories that touch lives and provide connections for those who feel lost. We have the power to share stories that reflect inclusion, unity, diversity, and betterment of the human condition. We have the power to tackle tough topics, heal people and their wounds and empower them. We can create better worlds and give people the power to speak up, and we can give them hope.
Because we always need hope in our world. We really do.
Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. Mom of two and author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romances LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (<– coming as soon as she can tame that wild beast of a book baby). You can find out more about her writing at www.helenboswell.com.