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Monday, April 6, 2020

How a Book is Like a Baby




Story time: When I had been out of high school for less than a year, one of my friends had her first baby. I still remember some of the advice her mom gave her. Something along the lines of, "Everyone wants to put their baby on a schedule, but you know, the baby will let you know when it needs something. The baby will cry when it's hungry, when it is wet, or when it is tired. It will let you know."

Now, I'm still not a parent, and I'm sure life can be more complicated than that (and that people wished their baby's needs were a little clearer), but something about that statement stayed in my nineteen-year-old brain. Maybe part of it was the relief it brought in knowing that any frustration that might come from trying to enforce a set schedule, would be avoided.

For the last couple of months, I've been thinking about how a book is like a baby.

You study and plan and prepare and pick names. You might even envision a whole path your "baby" will take. You might prewrite and outline and organize.

If you are like me, you've done a lot of prepping.

But when it's time to sit down and write a scene, you have to listen to the baby.

Lately one of my mantras has been, "The story will reveal its needs to me."

Just as when preparing to have a real baby, the prior work isn't a waste. You'll likely use nearly all your preliminary material (generally speaking). But when it's time to actually put the thoughts to page, you have to listen for its crying.

It might cry that there isn't enough surface tension.

It might cry that the pacing is too slow.

It might cry for a little extra TLC.

Or maybe that there is a better direction to take.

Even if you've done a lot of prep, to some extent, you need to answer the cries of the baby. If you have enough experience, the manuscript will let you know its needs.

Now, that's not to say there won't be times where the story is crying and you're clueless as to why. Like with babies, you might have to try a few different things to get that to stop.

And if you get it just right, you'll even be able to hear it coo.

So on the one hand, it would be ridiculous to have a baby with no preparation--think about how dangerous that could be!

On the other, when you actually have it in your arms, it won't fit what you envisioned perfectly--you have to listen for its crying.

You have to meet its needs.

And when you do, everyone will be happy.

So, I think a book is like a baby.

And maybe in more ways than one.

***

Turns out that there is a huge sale on TeachersPayTeachers today (April 6th) and tomorrow (April 7th) to help with Covid--all of my resources will be 20% off as well. If you are a teacher, homeschooling, or just like learning stuff, you might want to check it out. My stuff is here, but you can browse the whole site for deals. This last week I added a resource about Imagery and another on basic story structure. Right now I'm working on one about the Hero's Journey. 


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