Eight Ways Writing a Novel is Like Becoming a Parent
Kitty at one month.
If you’ve been following Aliventures for a while, you’ll know that my husband and I have a baby daughter. She’s two months old now and, over the past weeks, I’ve come to realise that although parenting is an exciting new adventure, it’s not so very different from my life as a writer.
If you’re a novelist or a parent (or both!) then I suspect you’ll recognise a few of these. And if you’ve got novel-writing-and-parenting experiences to add, just pop a comment at the end of the post.
#1: It’s Harder Than You Imagine
Your novel might take years of work: researching, writing, rewriting, editing, searching for a publisher (or self-publishing). That initial moment of inspiration is easy; the rest isn’t. If you’ve never written a novel before, there’s no way to be fully prepared for what you’re letting yourself in for.
Becoming a parent is a massive commitment: pregnancy and preparation and birth, then a baby, toddler, child, teenager. The moment of conception is easy; the rest isn’t. If you’ve never had a kid before, there’s no way to be fully prepared for what you’re letting yourself for.
Tip: Take it one day at a time – and every so often, look back to celebrate how far you’ve already come.
#2: It Can Become a Massive Guilt Trip
If you’re not working on your novel, you feel guilty. If you are working on your novel, you feel guilty because you’re researching when you should be writing, or writing when you should be researching, or you’re writing fiction when you should be doing paid work, or you’re writing what you’re sure is derivative rubbish…
If you’re a parent … well, the guilt trip starts with that glass of wine you had before taking the pregnancy test, and I suspect it never really ends.
Tip: Try not to wallow in guilt. Your finished novel – or grown-up kid – is very unlikely to suffer from one or two mistakes along the way.
#3: Your House Will Never Be Tidy Again
Even if you write straight onto the computer, your novel will probably generate a fair bit of mess: books that you’re consulting, pages of manuscript that you’re editing, scribbled notes to yourself all around the house, mugs of cold, forgotten tea…
Babies come with a quite astonishing number of accessories: clothes, bibs, muslins, rattles, bathing stuff, nappies, cuddly toys, socks (that fall off), mittens (that fall off), plus larger things like travel systems and Moses baskets and cots…
Tip: You can never have too many bookshelves, or too many big plastic boxes.
#4: You Might Get a Tad Obsessed
Your Facebook page is a series of updates about your word count. Every conversation you have inevitably ends up being about your novel. You constantly spot interesting people in the street, and wonder whether they’d make great cameo characters.
Your Facebook page is a series of photos of your cuter-than-cute kid. Every conversation you have inevitably ends up being about nappies and sleepless nights. You constantly spot awesome-looking buggies in the street, and wonder whether they’re better than your travel system.
Tip: Hang out with fellow novelists / fellow parents; you’ll be less likely to bore them.
#5: You’ll Lie Awake in the Middle of the Night
You’re staring at the ceiling at 3am with an awesome new idea for a scene in your novel. Maybe you should get up and write it down before you forget it…
You’re staring at the ceiling at 3am, listening to your kid burble in their sleep. Maybe you should get up and see what they need, in case they’re about to start crying…
Tip: If you’re a parent and a novelist, multi-task: combine middle-of-the-night feeds with musing about your novel-in-progress.
#6: You Need Support
You’re worried that your dialogue is stilted, your descriptions are trite, and your plot is riddled with holes. Your novel is never going to be publishable, and even if you get it out there to the world, it’s never going to be read.
You’re worried that your kid should be eating less, sleeping more, and doing that cute thing that your friend’s kid can do. They definitely shouldn’t be headbutting you in the mouth then laughing. Are you raising a baby psychopath here?
Tip: Find a group of writers / parents, and get help and encouragement from those who’ve gone down this path before.
#7: Lots of the Advice is Contradictory
One book tells you to plot out your novel in detail – with paragraphs of description for each chapter. Another book tells you to just start writing and let inspiration guide you. One agent says begin in the middle of a scene. Another says they never take novels that start with a line of dialogue.
One book tells you to carry your baby everywhere, all the time. Another book tells you that your baby should only ever sleep in their cot. One expert recommends controlled crying. Another says that you should never, ever leave your child to cry.
Tip: There’s often a happy middle ground.
#8: No Amount of Theory Can Replace Hands-On Experience
You’ve read ten books about novel-writing … but now you’re actually doing it, a lot of that theory doesn’t seem to be helping as much as you thought it would. When you’re in the middle of writing a scene, how can you possibly remember everything you read about crafting descriptions and showing character and writing snappy dialogue?
You’ve read ten books about parenting … but now you’re actually doing it, you’re lucky if you can remember to brush your teeth, let alone keep track of that complicated schedule your baby is “supposed” to be on.
Tip: We live in the real world, with all its complexities and compromises. Consult the books when you’re stuck or confused, but don’t try to follow them slavishly.
Does any of this ring true for you? Do you have any tips to share, or #9 and/or #10 for the list? Just pop a comment below…
I’m Ali Luke, and I live in Leeds in the UK with my husband and two children.
Aliventures is where I help you master the art, craft and business of writing.
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