Midwifing Your Story: From Conception to Birth
Babies are kind of weird. On paper, at least. You gestate a parasite for nine + months (during which time, said parasite will make its presence known by kicking/punching/sitting-on-your-bladder at 2am), and eventually lose it through an excruciating
torture-session delivery, which usually results in tears and lots of people staring at your privates.
Sounds like writing to me!
But how? How does (possibly) pooping yourself while delivering an eight-pound, green-tinged, crying-machine relate to story-telling? Well, if you can ignore the absurdity of a man describing child-birth for a moment (it’s cool, I’ve seen Knocked Up five times), I’ll tell you.
Oh yeah…this is where it’s at. The lights are low, Marvin Gaye is a’ croonin, you just got a bag of chicken fingers (or Big Macs, I’m not judging), and things are looking good. The music swells, the sweet-hot scent of hot-sauce and fried-chicken fills the air, intoxicating, seductive. And that’s when it hits you…
“What if marmots secretly ran the government?”
Conception. The starting point. Sometimes it only takes a moment (it’s the quality of the idea, dammit, not the duration), and you’re suddenly presented with nine months of commitment. Hey! It’s your own fault for listening to Marvin Gaye and eating chicken–-you know how you get.
And once conception hits there’s no going back. This idea is yours, so best get used to it. You’re stuck with those Marmots—even if it takes two weeks to get the test results—so start preparing.
–The First Trimester, or Idea Gestation
Oh boy, what have I gotten myself into. Those Marmots seemed like such a good idea at the time! Now I can’t even eat a chicken-finger without seeing their furry little government-running faces. I’m afflicted at all hours, haunted by the idea. At work I can’t concentrate; my boss keeps asking me what’s wrong. At night I toss and turn, kept awake by the sounds of chattering Marmot teeth.
Damn you, Marvin Gaye!
It’s tempting to freak out, but remember: everyone’s been here. All writers go through this stage, where the idea is more curse than blessing, where sleep eludes you, where the smell of sweet, sweet hot-sauce makes you gag (maybe you should have gone with Big Macs). But it’s OK, because even though you haven’t figured out the details, the setting, the questions (but they don’t even have thumbs!?) there’s something exciting about the unknown. The promise that something is coming. So don’t rush it, take your time and let your story grow at its own pace.
Before you know it, it’ll be time for…
–The Second Trimester, or The First Draft
Alright, finally—the fun part. Your stomach has finally settled, the hot sauce is back in your pantry, and you’ve made your piece with Marvin. It’s time to write!
You’ve spent the last few weeks rolling the idea around your brain-space like a friggin Magic Eight Ball, and now it’s time to stop obsessing and get that crazy on the page. Luxuriate in the feeling, smile, relax, give yourself permission to indulge in that nascent idea-gravy and just write. This isn’t the time to think (stop it, Poindexter), that comes later. This is the time to get whimsical, to walk around your office in a tri-corner hat, yelling at imaginary Marmots and ordering strategic gopher assaults.
Damn this is fun.
It should be fun. As writers we only get a brief opportunity to indulge in our collective insanity, and this is that time. Enjoy it, because the second trimester doesn’t last long.
–The Third Trimester, or Revision.
Ugg. Are we done yet?
Revision can be fun—but it’s probably not. And if you’re one of those people walking around with your swollen idea-baby telling me how special you are, and “Aren’t you so excited,” shut your word-hole. I’m not excited. I want this freaking story out of me.
The easy part is over, now it’s time to work. This is the most crucial stage of development, when your story really needs your attention. I know; you’re exhausted. Well, eat some ice chips and get your butt in that chair, because you’re a writer, dammit! This kid is coming out, and when it does you want five-fingers, five-toes, and a lot of crying. Your story isn’t going to get there on its own, you have to midwife those Marmots. You have to give it the right food (grammar), the right vitamins (structure), and a little Mozart (Umm…Mozart. It works).
This stage is tough. But, you know, that’s a good thing; creativity should be tough. If it was easy everyone would do it, and then who would you have to feel superior over? Plus, there are perks: you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, you can eat whatever you’d like(I gained ten pounds? Shut up, I’m editing), and everyone says you have a glow. It’s probably because you haven’t showered in three days, but who cares? You’re almost ready for…
HOLY CRAP THIS STORY IS COMING OUT! I’M NOT READY, I HAVEN’T IDEA-PROOFED THE HOUSE!
The amount of revision is going to vary, but no matter how long you take eventually that story is coming out. It’s tough to know when you’re done editing—there’s always something that needs fixing—but you can’t revise forever, and there comes a time when those Marmots have to run free.
It’s scary. It’s painful. It’s easier with drugs (or alcohol…not every metaphor works). Breathe…you’re almost done. Time to send that baby to the agent/magazine editor/kindle!
Enjoy this moment, because it’s rare. I’m going to let the analogy break down for a moment (no need to get macabre) and say that not every idea gets this far. It’s hard-work, midwifing a story, and if you’ve made it to the end you should give that idea-baby a pat on the head (watch the soft spot), because your writer-canal is long, dark, and full of twists and turns. If your story survived the journey that probably means it’s ready to come into the world. Time to cry, poop, and join a little-league team (Analogy back!).
So, congratulations, proud parent! You have a beautiful baby Marmot.
Now get ready for the terrible Twos.
“Cranky face” Flickr’s Creative Commons via Jippolito
“Marmot” Flickr’s Creative Commons via Sistak
“Non-Magic 8-Ball” Flickr’s Creative Commons via 60 in 3
“Mozart” Flickr’s Creative Commons via bioxid
“Martini” Flickr’s Creative Commons via cowfish
Awesome post, thanks. Gross in just the right places. I’m in the revision stage right now – it’s fun, in its own way, but not the same kind of fun as drafting. Oh well. Gotta be done.
Thanks Dan. “Gross in just the right way,” is high-praise. 😀
I love the analogy! Hope you’re enjoying fatherhood 🙂
Loving it, Clare. Thanks 🙂
This was great. I had a smile plastered on my face from the first sentence on. Great stuff!!!
Glad you enjoyed it, Christine. 🙂