Writing is a birth, of sorts.
When I was pregnant with my first child, I decided I wanted to give birth without medication. I was in love with the idea and informed my husband. He was enamored of the idea as well, and he bought books on the Bradley method of natural childbirth for us both to read. It was in those books that we learned about the emotional signposts of labor.
First, there’s excitement: Today’s the day! I’m having this baby today!
Then, there’s seriousness: Let’s get down to the business of birthing this baby. This is hard. I’m uncomfortable. I need to concentrate. And by the way, DON’T touch me.
Finally, there’s self-doubt: I’m done! I can’t do this anymore! This emotional signpost corresponds to transition. Transition is a nice-sounding word for the most difficult part of labor and signifies that birth is coming soon.
Even though I’d studied these signposts, the books still made birth seem easy, and I was confident I could give birth naturally. I was looking forward to it, in fact. The night my water broke, however, the contractions came hard and fast. I doubted whether I could handle the rest of labor. I did indeed survive my first labor, and I gave birth to a precious baby boy that night. But his birth wasn’t without pain.
Eleven months later, I became pregnant again. This time around, I wasn’t so confident. I’d been blissfully unaware of it during my first pregnancy, but during my second, I knew labor was going to hurt. I knew how bad the labor pains could get, and I wasn’t looking forward to the actual birth process. And I was right — it did hurt. Bad. I knew that I could give birth naturally, but I dreaded the pain.
Writing is a birth of sorts, complete with all the emotional signposts.
First, there’s excitement: I have an (invariably brilliant) idea!
Then, I pitch the idea to someone, most often, my husband. It’s (usually) met with approval.
I’m still excited. Until I start typing, that is, and the words on the screen begin to look like nonsense. They don’t communicate what I want to communicate AT ALL.
That’s when I decide that my “brilliant idea” is total, complete, and utter trash.
I determine that either
– a) the idea itself is bad or
– b) I have no wordsmithing abilities whatsoever and
– c) I should just quit now.
It’s at this self-doubt signpost that I’ve learned I need to close the laptop and put it away until tomorrow — a luxury not afforded one in active labor. Then I keep returning to it, day after day. This is the serious working phase, and requires concentration. I rearrange words, and rearrange them again, deleting whole sentences and even paragraphs, until I can read them out loud with relative satisfaction. Then, I birth it. I hit Publish and launch it out into the world. My hard work is done.
I used to forget this phenomenon between writing projects. I would forget how annoyingly hard the process is. They say Labor Amnesia is the reason people have second and third and fourth and even fifth babies. The pain of labor dissipates — we forget, and are willing to try again. Well, I had Writer’s Amnesia. Each time I attempted something new, I was surprised and frustrated by the difficulty of the task.
I worked hard each time, yet when I was finished, I still had new ideas I thought I could tackle with ease. (How very naïve.) But this same plotline has unfolded so many times now that I’ve come to accept it as part of the writing process. And I keep coming back to the craft because something inside me tells me there is more to be said, more to be written, more to be done.
Writing — and all art — is messy. It’s hard work, and it sometimes hurts. You might not know this ahead of time. The pain and heartache might take you by surprise, might sideswipe you. That is, until you’ve given birth to enough pieces that you can look back and see the pattern in your labors. Now, you know it will hurt. Now, you know the process is long and drawn-out. Now, you know you might regret your “brilliant” idea, and be tempted to give up. But by now, you’ll also know that you can’t give up, even when faced with the self-doubt signpost. Because something inside you propels you forward.
For the artist, for the creative person, conception of an idea is exciting. The gestation, however, is decidedly not. Your idea often grows much heavier than you expected it would. You reach the same emotional signposts each time you labor over an idea. But the beauty of it? Another day, you can birth another idea. And on a day after that, you can birth another idea. The emotions stay the same, but the ideas change. They are new. They are fresh.
They are invitations to create.