I am a parent.
Just those four words likely tell you a lot about me—like I do far more laundry than I used to and I could have purchased a small country with what I’ve spent on raising my kids. What it probably also tells you is that there are some children out there that I love more than any other children. They are my babies—no matter how old they get.
Sometimes we writers refer to our works in the same way. Our stories, our poetry, our novels, our memoirs, etc. are our babies. And there is some truth to that because we love our writing in a way that we can’t love other peoples’ writing. Even if you adore books by James Rollins or Jennifer Cruisie or Charles Dickens, their novels don’t belong to you. Your own writing does. Like a parent, at the end of the day, you are responsible for your baby—your book.
Whether or not you are a parent in real life, walk with me here through a comparison of what children and books both need.
Attention. In parenting, sometimes just doing that laundry, getting food on the table, and taxiing children around consumes our time such that it’s hard to get face-to-face or shoulder-to-shoulder interaction with our kids. But relationship is so important in parenting and must be fostered. This is true as well with writing, when the demands of email, blogging, social media, beta reading for others, etc., can cut into the attention you really need to give your own WIP. First things first: Give your writing the attention it needs.
Nurturing. Children need nurturing to grow. They must be cared for, coddled, and cooed at. Your writing needs your good lovin’ too. Just like young parents learn to identify the various cries of their infant (some mean hungry, some mean tired, etc.), you need to figure out what your writing needs and how to deliver it. You may simply need more time to write. You may need to learn more about story structure or character sketching. You may need someone to help with reading and critiquing your work. Whatever your writing needs, it’s up to you to nurture it and help it develop.
Discipline. The flip side of all of that lovey-dovey, coo-at-your-baby stuff is discipline. As soon as children get mobile and learn the word “no,” you realize it’s time to figure out what your behavioral goals for them are and how to set some boundaries. You need discipline in your writing too. Setting goals with ROW80 and being accountable to others is a great step in that direction. Perhaps you also set the boundaries of no phone calls, no social media, no interruptions, for one hour a day. Or you don’t let yourself watch your TV show until you finish editing that scene (which sounds a lot like the rule in my house of no Minecraft until homework is done).
Time to grow. Parenting is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Children need time to grow and mature, both physically and emotionally. I have a teenager, and I swear that some things I started teaching him at age two have just now (finally) become ingrained in him. Your writing ten years ago isn’t your writing now. And you’ll be an even better writer ten years from now, if you nurture it and give it time to grow. It’s okay that you’re not as far along as someone else as long as you are growing.
Praise. This is something about which parenting experts almost uniformly agree: Positive reinforcement works. When your kid does something wonderful, shower a little praise in their direction. When you plot out a whole novel, meet your word count goal, finish a tough scene, or complete the novel, give yourself a big pat on the back. You are awesome! You can do something even more celebratory with the big goals, like treating yourself to dinner or purchasing a new book. But positively reinforce the progress you want to see in your writing.
What your writing, and your kids, don’t need is abuse. So when it’s not going well, take a breather. Don’t rip apart the pages of your novel because it isn’t (yet) all you hoped it would be.
Each child, and each book, has its own trajectory. Don’t give up. Keep at it. This is your baby, for heaven’s sake! Love it like you mean it!