Several weeks ago, I had my first conversation with a literary agent. A real literary agent! She had contacted me, inviting an introductory phone call, and I was just beside myself with excitement. I spent hours researching her and her agency before gathering questions and talking points for our call. When it came time to speak with her, I couldn’t have felt more prepared.
The conversation was wonderful; we connected well within a steady flow of thoughtful questions and storytelling. If you asked me, our contract to work together was all but signed and sealed. We would make a great team!
And then—she asked it. The question I must have known was coming but somehow felt wildly unprepared to answer. “What is your book idea?” She asked, with such warmth and energy. I didn’t know exactly how to answer, so I went with the most obvious response for a scenario like this one:
“I’m not pregnant yet!” I blurted out hastily.
The agent was silent, obviously (and understandably) waiting for me to say more, to make some connection between my book idea and pregnancy update.
I took a deep breath and spoke slower, in an effort to sound more grounded with the direction I was taking our conversation. “I’m just not pregnant yet,” I repeated confidently.
On the day a writer friend of mine has a book launching, we wish the book a happy birthday. It has been birthed into this world and is ready to travel into the hands and homes of readers across the globe, enriching their lives, we very much hope. Launch day is the day the book is born, but the author has been working to grow, shape, and prepare the book for many months—usually years.
When I shared with the literary agent that I am not pregnant, it wasn’t the answer to a question she didn’t ask. I’m not yet book pregnant. My book idea hasn’t, to my knowledge, been conceived yet.
This is how I like to think about my creative process. For writers, a book is very much our baby. It keeps us up at night, nags us relentlessly, and is, almost literally, made with our very own DNA. Writing a book can zap our energy, awaken our soul, and maybe even cause a bit of indigestion. It is a beautiful, painful, life-altering experience to breathe life into a book, witnessing it take shape and be released into the world. I haven’t had any children, but I hear that is beautiful, painful, and life-altering, as well.
What this analogy does for me is offer some grace and space to my writing process. I cannot close my eyes and suddenly become pregnant with a baby, nor can I spend a few minutes brainstorming and suddenly become “pregnant” with a book idea. To create a book and to grow a human—these things take time.
Where the analogy breaks down is, well, the how-to of conceiving a human being is pretty black and white, unless you’re Mary and Joseph. Conceiving a book isn’t quite so linear. I cannot follow a set of steps to prepare my book idea, and what worked for that author may not work for me. It’s the maddening and thrilling part of writing; I don’t know where the first spark of my book’s idea will ignite. The best I can do is to continue returning faithfully to my computer, writing each day.
Am I afraid the idea will never take shape? Oh my goodness, yes. I am afraid. So I lean on the writers who have gone before me, writers who know the fear, heartache, and desire wrapped up in this work. I look to Anne Lamott, who wrote the brilliant book, “Bird by Bird.”
“I heard a preacher say recently,” Lamott writes, “that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”
Every book I read—all of the words that, together, tell stories of truth, hope, intrigue, or amusement—these all exist because someone was not willing to give up as their idea grew and was birthed into the world for us all to delight in.
This changes the way I look at books. As I wait to meet my own book idea, I hold the words of others with much more reverence, better understanding their fierce commitment, patience, and labor. We who create—whatever the craft—are in good company, as we wait, watch, and work.
- The Birth of a Book - June 27, 2017
- Can We Survive on Inspiration? - April 20, 2016