Today is my oldest son's birthday. He's in his senior year of high school and I've decided that time is not linear but more like Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time. Wasn't it just yesterday that he was sitting in my lap while I read to him? Now we're filling out university applications, gathering data for scholarships, and starting to think about what will move with him and what we should store or give away.
So, what does this have to do with writing?
A common analogy for writing books is that of giving birth. The analogy usually deals with those months of preparation before the birth, equating the ups and downs of finding the right words, the right conflict, and the perfect characters to the mixed feelings of pregnancy: the pain and discomfort, the joy and anticipation.
But now I've discovered another aspect of this analogy, that of sending 'my baby' out into the world. Right now, my son goes off and I know he'll be back. He'll sleep at our house, eat at our table, drive our car. . . be part of our family in a very physical way.
Soon, though, he'll be going off to sleep at his own place, eat at his own table, park his car in his own driveway. I can still talk to him via phone or e-mail but it won't be the same. I won't know when he comes in at night. I won't know that he's eating all the right foods. I won't know all of his friends.
And so it goes with our manuscripts. It's okay to write in the privacy of our own space, to critique with friends we know, to make those final, final! revisions. But time marches on. At some point, if we're going to have readers, we have to send our babies out into the world.
I know things will be fine with our son. We've been preparing him (and us) for this day since he was born. Our goal as parents is to send our children into the world as productive citizens, ready to make a difference to their communities. We'll stay in contact, ready to help if he needs us, but trusting that he can go it alone.
We have to do the same with our manuscripts. We may lose sleep once that manuscript is in the mail, we may check listings to see how the published book fares in the rankings, we may beg understanding from our writing friends when the manuscript comes back.
But the first step is letting go. How else can our stories ever grow up?