Once upon a time, before I was a writer, I attended births. Not as a midwife or a doctor. I was a doula—the person who often came to a labor early, who did their best to stay awake for the duration, who drove home in the wee hours, windows open and radio blaring and caffeinated beverage in hand so as not to nod off. I occasionally had births that lasted no longer than a pleasantly chatty family meal, but that was a rarity.
Column by Jennifer Mason-Black, author of DEVIL AND THE
BLUEBIRD (May 2016, Amulet Books). Jennifer is a lifelong
fan of most anything with words. She’s checked for portals in
every closet she’s ever encountered, and has never sat beneath
the stars without watching for UFOs. DEVIL AND THE BLUEBIRD
is her first novel. Her stories have also appeared in The Sun, Strange
Horizons, and Daily Science Fiction, among others. Follow her on Twitter.
Another piece of my job was to help families prepare for the experience. To consider what items to pack, what people to invite, what would happen once the baby was born. To tailor it all to who they were, rather than depending on a one-size-fits-all approach.
And to be realistic. Everyone has a story of an aunt, a neighbor, a friend of a friend who had their baby in the garage because they couldn’t even make it to the car. My job was to acknowledge that, to admit that yes, occasionally births, even first births, go so quickly that they catch everyone by surprise. Just as occasionally a writer dashes off a book, and has it snapped up by a publisher within twenty-four hours of going on submission, and debuts on the NYT Bestseller list.
But it’s probably better not to use that word: occasionally. It might be better to say rarely.
It rarely happens. Most of us have first labors lasting a great many hours. Most of us do not experience that brilliant jetpack ride through publishing. We trudge along, wondering if we’re good enough, if we should give up, if maybe we don’t deserve a response from that agent, that editor. We run into doubt again and again, of the kind that eats at you at two in the morning, telling you that you were a fool to even try.
These are normal feelings. Most of us have them.
What I learned as a doula is that you save a lot of heartache if you look away from the outliers. If you trust the journey itself is worthwhile, and pack for the long haul.
Agent Donald Maass, who is also an author
himself, is one of the top instructors nationwide
on crafting quality fiction. His recent guide,
The Fire in Fiction, shows how to compose
a novel that will get agents/editors to keep reading.
The same is true of publishing. It’s best to accept that the travel time of your book may be long. Very long. You’ll need coping tools—lots of them. What helps at the beginning may not help halfway in, so go ahead and pack them all. Likewise, be prepared to make some up along the way. There’s no shame in yodeling in the bathtub if it helps you survive.
Don’t forget to pack support as well. Not just the folks who are the best partiers when things are great. You’ll need the ones who will slog through despair with you and help you find a way out. These people are gold. Don’t ever forget that.
Don’t forget to eat either, or to stay hydrated. Remember that sometimes a shower can be everything. So can opening a window, or going for a walk, or listening to music
Finally, and this is key, after that book deal happens, after you reach your publication date, you have to let go. This book, the one that you made from scratch, sweated over, cried over, loved and hated and longed to bring into the world? It’s become something more than you now. You can love it, support it, take pictures of it, tell stories about it, but in the end, it has entered the world, and despite all those pieces of you within its pages, its journey has separated from yours.
Those coping tools you packed, those golden people—they can help with that too.
Your new complete and updated instructional guide
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Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Writing is More Passion Than Talent.
- Agent Spotlight: Laura Zats (Red Sofa Literary) seeks YA, MG, Romance and Fiction.
- Introvert's Guide to Attending Conferences.
- Selling A Manuscript Is Like Falling In Love.
- Follow Chuck Sambuchino on Twitter or find him on Facebook. Learn all about his writing guides on how to get published, how to find a literary agent, and writing a query letter.