Your Idea: A Birth Story

The idea for this post came to me while I was in a Valerian root/chamomile tea-induced slumber, and I was half-awake. I wrote the entirety of it in my Idea & Inspiration notebook while snuggling and nursing my toddler, so this could either be totally brilliant or absolutely ridiculous. [Let’s just go with brilliant, though.]




It’s only when I sit and think about the process by which a story is born that I realize it’s not unlike a baby. And, yes, authors do consider their books to be their babies. Even if they have human babies of their own. This is that process.

[Please note that this is my process. Not every author follows these steps.]

Before you ever start writing or planning, you have an idea. It’s shiny and beautiful and perfect. Best of all, it’s untarnished by the imperfections that come from being born. It’s the honeymoon stage of a story’sand baby’slife, before you’re elbow-deep in dirty diapers and first drafts. But the seed of inspiration (and we’re going to breeze right on by these parallels) has taken root, and the idealike a fetuswill germinate and grow, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly.

And grow it does. The more you think about your idea, the more it takes shape. Now you can recognize features like theme, characters, backstory, conflict, setting, and plot, just as you’d see arms and legs and ears on a sonogram. If you’re really lucky, you’ll notice the small detailsyour scenesand you’ll delight over them, just like new parent delights over seeing their baby’s fingers and toes. You’re still pretty naïve at this point, even if you have other books or children. It’s simply the creative nature of things.

Your idea continues to grow and morph into a definitive statea drabble, short story, novel, or seriesand the creative energies explode. Suddenly, you’re realizing you have something viable. The idea starts to fill you, spreading to all the parts of your body and mind, stretching you in ways you didn’t know you could stretch. This continues for some timeit’s not always a concrete measure of time, unlike a pregnancyuntil you feel your idea kicking to get out on the page. At this point, you might find yourself writing down some details you think are particularly great, and the idea continues to grow.

That is, until one day you find yourself so consumed by this thing, which has, by now, turned into its own entity, that it can no longer stay inside of you. It’s bursting to come out, to come alive on the page. And one day, that pressure will build so much that you can’t not sit down and write it, just as you can’t help but go into labor. The thing with laborand writing a storyis that some people have short labors lasting only an hour or two and some people have long labors lasting a day or two, just as some writers birth their story in a month or two and some writers take a year or more. [Actually, the great Stephen King recommends you finish your first draft within three months.] It’s all a process, and every book, just like every child, is different.

And, here’s the sad part of the baby-book analogy, not all ideas are born into stories. Some aren’t viable, and some are abandoned. Some have happier trajectories and are adopted out to other writers who may, or may not, be able to come up with their own ideas.

Have you ever heard about someone who was convinced they were having a girl (or boy), and on delivery dayoops, not what they were expecting? They might have put in all this effort for a child who was one particular gender (hey, boys can have pink, and girls can have blue), but now they’re derailed and feel like they need to start all over. Some stories, just like babies, are misinterpreted in the beginning. You might think you have a short story on your hands, but when you get down into it find out that it’s really a novel. Or vice versa. Which, if you think about it, makes a great case for gender-neutral baby stuff and not getting too caught up in one way of thinking about writing.

All of a sudden, though, almost magicallyand by “magic,” I, of course, mean putting in a lot of work and tearsyour story is birthed in the form of a first draft where anything is possible. You’ll reread that first draft like you would stare in your newborn’s eyes. It sounds great at first, but then you start to notice little detailsthe stilted dialogue, flat characters, lack of conflictand it’s kind of like noticing how squashed your baby’s face is or how cone-shaped their head is. And it’s nothing like the perfect pictures of babies you see in the movies or in pictures, just like your draft isn’t like the published books you see on the bookshelf. But it’s your story, your baby, and you love it anyway. (Especially if you wait at least six weeks before reading your first draft.)

You take the next few drafts to nurture your story and, hopefully, refine it through its tantrumsin the form of characters not bending to your willand backtalkin the form of words just not coming out as intended and not-quite-right ideas. After some time, though, and it’s often far longer than the time it took to grow and birth it, your story will find its voice, find its essence, and be ready to strike out on its own in the vicious world of publication. And just like a parent dropping off their kid at daycare or school for the first time, you’ll want to cry, but you know it’s their time for them to get a little independence.

Maybe in that time you’ll find a few trusted readers, called beta readers, to run your story by them, kind of like a trial run and quite like a play date with toddlers. Your story might be wobbly, just as a toddler teeters before landing on their bum, only to get up and try it all over again, but with some gentle reassurance (and some ruthlessness), your story will become stronger and more ready than ever to explore the world.

One day, when you’re least expecting it, or maybe this time you’ve planned it, another idea will come in your mind, and you’ll nurture it, just like someone nurtures the idea of growing their family by having another child while experiencing baby fever. It seems as though authors and parents alike seem to forget just what it’s like to bring another something in the world and help it grow. (But that’s okay because it’s worth it to start all over again.)




And that’s it! Have your experiences writing and publishing been similar to this process? If you’re a parent, what parallels have you drawn between child-rearing and story writing?

Writing and a 21-Day Meditation Experience

This post will be a heavier topic than usual, but I think that’s okay. Life is sometimes profound and deep, and we, as authors and readers, shouldn’t shy away from those ideas.

Of course, it’s April, which means it’s Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve written a few posts on this already. What I haven’t done, however, was keep you all updated with my progress. There are a lot of reasons [excuses] for this: editing contracts, landlord inspection, and a weekend hiking trip are the big ones. Needless to say, my progress hasn’t been what I’d have hoped. In fact, my original goal was to write 40,000 words this month. [Totally unreasonable, by the way.] I bumped it down to 25,000 words, but, after this hiking trip, I decided that 20,000 words was a reasonable goal. Right now, I’m sitting with a paltry 5,496 words. I will essentially quadruple this in the next ten days.

In addition to Camp NaNo, I’m also participating in an annual 21-day meditation experience hosted by Oprah and Deepak Chopra. The topics change each year, and I’ve been participating in this for the past three years [at least]. Anyway, this year, the topic is all about finding hope in everyday life. Hope is something definitely lacking in my life, and it’s something I am trying to work on.

I’m a little behind on the days, and I just wrapped up days 6 and 7 tonight. I decided to do the meditation in a secluded IHOP booth at midnight. Instead of chanting the mantra, I free write during the meditation part. It allows me the space to really connect with the message. After that meditation, though, I was a weeping puddle. I was ugly-crying by the end of it, and I didn’t stop for several minutes. Let me tell you, in case you’ve never broke down at midnight in a restaurant, it was awkward, but I needed that vulnerability with myself.

Day 6’s message was: “I trust in my core self at every moment,” and it talked about how we build trust and belief in ourselves and how we translate that to others. If we have a negative view of the world, we can fix it by examining each belief one at a time, breaking them down to their core and mending them. It spoke of inner trust – and, I’ll be honest, I lack that – and about limiting beliefs. During the free write, all this trauma from when I was younger surfaced, and I felt like I was right there again. That fear, that intensity. I could feel every scar, some rawer than others. Honestly, it was a little overwhelming to experience in an IHOP in the middle of the night. I continued with the next day’s meditation, though.

Day 7’s message dovetailed nicely with the previous one, and it was: “I find a reason to hope in every situation.” It talked about the importance of gratitude as a foundation of hope, that the more gratitude we have the more hope we have. It reminded me to focus on the solution and not on the problem, and that every problem has a solution, which should bring me hope. Chopra went into what happens when we have constricted awareness – which was basically my daily experience of limits and fears and anxieties and a feeling of “lack.” Again, during the free write, all these memories resurfaced, and I just let them. I ended up writing a list of ways I can expand my awareness in my daily life, and I came up with nine practical, easy things. What’s pretty cool is that my word of the year I chose on December 31 last year was LIMITLESS. I didn’t know why I chose this word; it just popped in my head. During the meditation recording, Chopra said that word several times, and I just smiled. I learned how I can experience being limitless, if only I put in a little effort.

I bring all this up because one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, once said, “Writers remember everything…especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones, you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar. Art consists of the persistence of memory.”

All these memories, the scars left behind, helped me develop Aggie, the main character in my cozy mystery series. In it, she and her husband have a lot to deal with. She’s an optimist; there’s no denying it, but throughout the series, she and her husband will experience setbacks that will test her optimism and will threaten to break her spirit. Whether it does or not is something you’ll have to read about, but I can write about her experiences battling hopelessness and feeling limited because I can fully feel my own experiences of feeling the same way. As a writer, it’s sometimes painful to dredge up those memories of trauma and hurt, but, in the end, it not only deepens my characters but it’s a cathartic experience in my own healing process. Hopefully, a reader will read my words and find their own healing as well.

As a reader, have you experienced a sense of healing after reading about a character’s journey? What messages have stuck with you?

As a writer, do you use your personal scars to deepen your characters and give them a purpose? Do you share some scars with your characters, allowing yourself to process your experiences through the lens of writing?