Today, my youngest turns four.
As I always do on each of the kids’ birthdays, I’m reflecting on the circumstances of his birth: when and how it started (pathetic, infrequent contractions the day after his due date); how long it took (4 hours of active labor); those final moments before we met him (in the tub!); and holding him in my arms for the first time (always a moment of pure ecstasy).
For me, birth has been the single most empowering experience of my life. It’s incredibly difficult and painful (and often long), but the reward is great, even when that little boy now pretends he can’t hear me calling his name.
Lately I’ve been comparing childbirth to writing, though not in the way you might think. Yes, there is a parallel to draw between childbirth and “giving birth” to a book. But my recent comparison is focused more on a writing career than on writing itself.
Building a writing career is a process, just like birthing a baby. There are steps you have to take, many of which I haven’t even touched yet (but I’m trying!). You can’t push until you’re dilated, and you can’t query agents or pitch a novel until you have a polished manuscript.
There are moments when I’m tired, exhausted, and beyond discouraged. I feel like I just can’t go on another minute. I can’t send another query or stomach another rejection or make another big change to the story. They call this “transition” in childbirth, and it’s often only moments before it’s time to push. I can only hope that the more frustrating, I-want-to-give-up moments I have with writing, the closer I am to realizing my dream.
But the most important parallel is that there is no such thing as normal. Even my own four births were very different from one another. Billions of women have had babies in the history of time, and each birth is unique.
So is each writing career unique. There is no “normal” or “typical” against which to measure success. Do some people get representation for and sell their first novel? Yes. Do some people have to write two or four or ten novels first? Yes. Do some people publish their debut at 22 years old? Yes. 67 years old? Yes. Do some people get a polished manuscript after five drafts? Yes? 50 drafts? Yes.
And that’s why I’ve stopped comparing myself to other writers/authors and their journeys, the same way I stopped, during my first labor, comparing myself to the woman in the next room who gave birth two hours after she arrived at the hospital. (I had already been there 24 hours and was still almost that far away from my eventual c-section.) Instead, I celebrate with writers and look forward to my own exciting announcements on Twitter. Because one way or another, they will come.
Comparison can be a thief of joy. It can also be a call to action. The only things that are important are to keep writing, keep fighting, and remember that the only journey that matters is my own.