Sarah R. Callender

Gestation

In Writing on September 29, 2010 at 7:21 am

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about gestation periods, mostly because as of this morning, I (once again) have a complete, not-terrible, 281-page draft of my novel. That’s the good news.

The embarrassing news is that it has taken me EIGHT YEARS to birth a complete, not-terrible 281-page novel. 281 pages in eight years? Carp! That’s as depressing as the time when, teaching high school English, I did a similar, sad math calculation to learn that after seven years of teaching, my salary-to-hours ratio came out to $7.00/hour.

See, Dad? That’s why I wasn’t a math major. Math is depressing.

Of course, when it comes to long gestation periods, (whether it be birthing babies or books) I’m in good company.

African elephant moms, for example, carry their baby for nearly two years. 100 weeks of nausea and sleeping poorly and no sushi or blue cheese? Then, after 100 weeks of feeling bloated-er and having swollen-er ankles and not ever really being able to get comfortable on the savanna, she has to push out a 200-250 pound rug rat-elephant? Can you imagine the post-natal incontinence after giving birth to that?!?

There’s also the black alpine salamander, a species that, to me is weirdly cute (in the same way that Lyle Lovett is weirdly cute)

and which, depending on the altitude at which they live, can have gestation periods of three whole years!  Kudos, to you, little mamas. May all of your babies grow up to look just like cute little you and sing like Lyle Lovett.

But back to my book. I can honestly say that if someone had told me it would take me EIGHT YEARS to write book, I might have said, “Oh. You’re sure? Then maybe let’s just forget it. I’ll knit a sweater instead. Maybe just a sweater vest. Or maybe I’ll just knit a one-color scarf and call it good.”

OR (and this is more likely) I might have said, “Nope. It won’t take eight years. It might take others eight years, but not me. Nothing takes me EIGHT YEARS. Nothing. The only thing that ever took me eight years was reaching my eighth birthday, and that is the last time I ever do that.”

But here I am, EIGHT YEARS LATER, in the stages of very early labor. My dear and invaluable and life-saving writing partners, Janna and Sean and Midge and Linera, say the contractions are still a month apart, that yes, it’s probably good to do one last read-through before I send my 281 pages to agents. But that’s OK. I have waited this long, what’s another month or two?

I also know I should cherish this time, these days when I finally have a solid product, BUT I am not getting hurtful reviews on Amazon or luke-warm repsonses from well-intentioned friends. Before I have even one rejection from agents or publishers. It’s too bad there’s not some sort of epidural for that post-birth stage.

Because, after bringing two real babies into the world, I have learned a thing or twelve. At the top of the list: it’s all fine and good to want a baby, but that baby sticks around for a while. And during that sticking-around time, he or she gets bigger and more emotionally complex, and still that kid is yours til death do you part. And, in the case that one’s offspring turn out to be slightly shy of perfect, you still get to stick by his or her side. Through fights over curfews and Everyday Math math homework. Through guiding your child through his ADD or mental health issues or peer pressure or alcohol abuse. Or Prom. Or Driver’s Ed.

And what if your child does not love shooting hoops or watching Monday Night Football with you and wants instead to take ballet, which wouldn’t be a huge problem except your child’s a he, and it’s no cake-walk being a ballet-loving boy. Or what if your daughter lobs rocks at the neighbor’s BMW, or your son tells the school principal, “You know what? My Dad says you’re nuts!” And when the principal calls to ask if this is true, you have to decide whether to tell the truth. Because you did, in fact, say that. You just didn’t think your son was listening. And that’s when you realize, holy alpine salamanders! Having a baby is SO MUCH MORE than the act of having a baby.

I can only assume this lesson is true for book-babies too.

Right now, all I want is to get my story into the hands of an agent who will want to get it into the hands of a publisher who will want to get it into the hands of millions of readers. Right now, I care nothing about the nasty reviews I will surely get, the pressure of writing the second book, and then the third and when’s the fourth coming out? Whenwhenwhen? And what about marketing and promotion and book tours and meeting with book groups and how about your website and you’ve sold only 300 books this whole year? Wow. EIGHT YEARS and only 300 books sold?

See? That’s another very sad math equation.

But right now, I don’t care about that. I will care, but right now I’m just a glowing, naive, soon-to-be-mother who is filled with excitement and expectation and certainty.

Sometimes I see preggos and I think, in my smuggest thinking voice, “Sister, you have NO idea what’s coming your way.” Other times, I envy their naivety, their blind optimism. I imagine seasoned writers think the same of someone like me.

But I think that’s the reason people have kids and write books and make art and music and cancer cures: most humans are comprised of 40-60% Hope. Add to that, the compelling, congenital urge to Create . . . whether it’s books, kids, iphone apps, dance routines, medicine, houses, world peace, life-long readers, love. That’s gotta be a big chunk of our genetic make-up: the desire to create something.

I think that’s why we carry that kid or book or whatever around with us for months or, in the case of Lyle Salamander, three whole years. Three years to get one homely little salamander! EIGHT WHOLE YEARS to write 281 pages!

No, we don’t ever know how our child or our book or our iphone app will fare in the world, but we risk it anyway. We keep creating stuff, hoping the world will love it even half as much we do.

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  1. Ah! you have moved me to tears at 7:27 in the morning when I didn’t even know I was conscious enough for strong feelings! Best to you, dear gestating friend – I will quietly resent you if my eyes are puffy when I get to work! XO

  2. Great post. Every step of the writing process is fraught with its own terrors, as Ellie said on Sunday. But the difference is that you can see ahead, to the terrors ahead. Um, (raises hand) might it also be possible that there will be tremendous joy ahead as well? It’s a strong story, well-written, and captivating. Think of the readers whose lives will be opened up by reading your novel. (Of course, this is advice I regularly give to myself, and ignore.)

    Hooray say I! I say Hooray!

  3. That’s 2920 days, 70,080 hours, and 96 bottles of reeslung. I CAN’T WAIT TO READ YOUR BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    RK Forever.

  4. You hit on a core part of being human, I think – the desire to create something. And the analogy to raising a child seems to fit – how hard is it when someone is mean to our child? It’s like they are an extension of us, but they’re out there separate from us and we can’t protect them. Seems like writing is kind of like that – out there and we’re protective of it, but can’t truly keep others from treating it unkindly. But, those really nice, smart, funny kids get treated well MOST of the time, just like your nice, smart, funny book, right? 🙂

  5. Hope. Creation. A book. Oh my. Pregnancy for me, was all about (re)learning that God Provides. I am mostly sure that’s true, which may actually just be Hope. To create and then let your creation be known, well, that just seems like more leaning on Hope that God does indeed provide. I needed the provision of peace and rest from anxiety and of course, a child. I’ll look forward to finding out what is provided for you in this process. I’ll Hope that it’s readers mostly.

  6. I’ll buy 300!

  7. Aw, love this post! Yes, hope, wonder, anxiety, terror, etc. Love the analogy. You are a true artist and look forward to this birth or use of your talent that has been, IMO, given to you. And eight years…wonderful!

  8. I, for one, can’t wait to buy and read your book. Just like the excitement I get when I know you’ve written your blog!

  9. I knew you could do it!!!! Congratualtions – I am so proud of you! (Lyle Salamander- love it)

  10. Actually, you’ve written a heck of a lot more than 281 pages in the past 8 years. You’re just smart enough to know that it takes 2,920 pages of good writing to get to 281 pages of AMAZING writing. Your book rocks.

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