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The John le Carre World of Babymaking

Do you know who knows what it’s like to carry another human being inside their body? Experience round ligament pain, hemorrhoids, and indigestion? And then, after peeing every two minutes for a nine-month time span, push a human being out via a small, 10-centimeter hole while they excrete blood, sweat, and poop? You know who knows EXACTLY what that is like? A man.

A man like John le Carre who recently compared writing a book to birthing a baby.

Completing a book, it’s a little like having a baby … There’s a feeling of relief and satisfaction when you get to the end. A feeling that you have brought your family, your characters, home. Then a sort of post-natal depression and then, very quickly, the horizon of a new book. The consolation that next time I will do it better.

Having written books and having given birth, this wasn’t how I would describe the process — but what do I know? I’m just a woman. I didn’t have relief and satisfaction when I felt my daughter slip out of my body. I had my heart literally explode to the outside of my body, as if she was pulling out my internal organs with her — both figuratively and literally. I cried and screamed and the incessant worrying began — never pausing even though she is now 6-years-old — twisting my body to see her, to hear her Apgar scores, to fret about where she was in relation to my throbbing body, still prone on the table, waiting for her twin brother to join her.

And, you know, I hoped I got it right with each of them rather than looking ahead to future kids with a shrug of “oh well, there’s always next time!”

But, it’s fitting that a man likens putting words together to creating a live human being, because — as a woman who would know best — I always compare book writing to being kicked in the balls:

Writing a book, it’s a little like getting kicked in the nutsack. First, there is the sharp pain of having the words flow faster than you can get them on the page, and then the burning agony of not being able to transfer the brilliant ideas from the brain to the paper. After a writing session, it is a throbbing ache as the person realizes they have to scrap everything they have written at the next edit and start anew.

See, it’s a perfect analogy.

If le Carre can’t let go of the idea of comparing books to reproduction, at least get the analogy closer to reality:

Publishing a book is like experiencing infertility.

There is this thing you really want — something you should be able to do if you dedicate the time and energy to the process, because, after all, other people have gotten to do this book publishing/baby-making thing in the past. So you do all the work and send out the query letters and get your heart stomped on month after month as the rejection letters/negative pregnancy tests pour back in — often without explanation.

And sometimes in frustration, the writer/almost-parent considers walking away from the whole publishing/baby-making process, especially because often, there is not a clear answer for why the process is so damn difficult. But it’s hard to talk a heart set on publishing/parenting that it would be okay if you walked away. So you stick around and invest more time, more money, more emotional energy.

And then one day, you get an agent/positive pregnancy test and you feel like you’re finally on the right road! You want to celebrate, but you’re so damn scared — for good reason. The reality is that this first hoop is merely a first hoop to jump through in order to bring home a published book/live baby. And many writers/almost-parents experience more frustration/loss on their way to a publishing contract/live baby.

And if you have stayed in the game this long, you most likely know a lot of other writers/almost-parents, and invariably, many will have gotten to the finish line while you are still running the race. And it will make you feel bitter and frustrated. It may make you feel sad enough that you begin avoiding bookstores/baby showers.

And what drives you forward — what makes you keep writing/trying to build your family — is simply hope. This irrational belief that it will happen for you because it is something that you need. And yes, it is sometimes a need, not a want, these desires that are buried so deep in our skin and bones that we would put ourselves out there — time and time again — despite not seeing the results we want, because the action is tied to who we are as people, to our very core.

And that, Mr. le Carre — having experienced infertility, birthing, and book publishing — is an analogy.

Perhaps I am simply bitter because in his analogy, it sounds like having a child is just something you decide to do (such as … oh, writing a book) and we all know that it isn’t quite that simple.  Nor is the loss of life quite akin to a few deleted paragraphs.

Mostly cross-posted with BlogHer.


1 Genevieve { 09.12.10 at 8:14 am }

WOOOOOHOOOOO! Take that, John LeCarre!!! (Umm, may have gotten the name spelled wrong).

2 gingerandlime { 09.12.10 at 8:27 am }

Oh, say it isn’t so! John LeCarre is one of my guilty pleasures! But I have to say, based on the completely clueless way he writes his few-and-far-between women characters, I’m not entirely surprised.

I like your version better.

3 m. { 09.12.10 at 8:47 am }

I hope this post goes viral. In a big way. Word, Mel. Word.

4 Krista { 09.12.10 at 11:11 am }

Love it!

5 loribeth { 09.12.10 at 11:22 am }

Heh heh… brilliant, as always! : )

6 Rebecca { 09.12.10 at 12:27 pm }

I like how you’re calling a writer a writer even though they might not be published. I wonder if I may be called a parent even though I have no live baby? I would like that.

7 Rebecca { 09.12.10 at 12:27 pm }

PS my bitterness is not aimed at you, Mel. I think this post is wonderful.

8 a { 09.12.10 at 2:54 pm }

Where’s the “Like” button?

9 Anna { 09.12.10 at 3:30 pm }

Wonderfully said!

“Writing a book, it’s a little like getting kicked in the nutsack.” Thanks for the laugh!

10 Stimey { 09.12.10 at 5:26 pm }

You are brilliant.

11 one-hit_wonder { 09.12.10 at 6:38 pm }

great post. hit home with me. i’m sitting on my thesis – which everyone says is immediately publishable – and i’m too afraid to do anything with it.

12 one-hit_wonder { 09.12.10 at 6:47 pm }

I would like to add, as well, that it is typical of male writers to compare writing to childbirth. (E.g., Philip Sydney, Shakespeare, Alexander Pope.) Historically, this is a common analogy for men to use even though they have no first-hand experience in the matter. Susan Stanford Friedman has a great article on this subject.

13 myinfertilitywoes { 09.12.10 at 9:32 pm }

Wow. How enlightening. Thank you. I laughed when you said ‘it’s just like getting kicked in the nutsack’ and then I read with amazement as you compared it to inferlity, and not knowing what it’s like to try to write/publish a book, it seemed so dead on.

Thank you for these thoughts!!

14 Allison { 09.12.10 at 10:07 pm }

I freakin’ love you.

15 Aisha { 09.12.10 at 11:22 pm }

This gave me chills- I have an agent and am shopping my book- and I have likened it to infertility (albeiet FARRRR LESSS PAINFUL A JOURNEY) in a similar way you have. Yes. Yes. YES!!!!!

16 Denver Laura { 09.13.10 at 12:50 pm }

Then the whole “why don’t you just adopt (plagiarize)” advice when everything else fails doesn’t cut it.

17 Kir { 09.13.10 at 1:20 pm }

now that was a GOOD POST!!!!!!! *MHHWAAHHH*

18 Kristin { 09.13.10 at 2:30 pm }

Go Mel Go!!!

19 Geochick { 09.13.10 at 4:00 pm }

Now I know whose books NOT to buy. I totally love the getting kicked in the balls analogy. I’d have to say that my masters thesis was just like that. hehehe

20 Barb { 09.13.10 at 5:22 pm }

I didn’t have relief and satisfaction when I felt my daughter slip out of my body. I had my heart literally explode to the outside of my body, as if she was pulling out my internal organs with her — both figuratively and literally. – OMG YES. Mind if I post this quote (with credit of course) on my blog? SO SO true.

21 Bea { 09.14.10 at 7:46 am }

Oh, your analogy is much better. So, so much better.


22 Annie { 09.14.10 at 2:11 pm }

You are too funny. I love the way you think.

23 flyingmonkeys { 09.15.10 at 12:52 am }

I laughed out loud at “just like getting kicked in the nut sack”…maybe I’m not done with therapy after all. LOL!

24 Anjali { 09.15.10 at 8:38 am }

Mel, you have me in tears, here. The rejection feels like being stabbed in the heart. A month and a half of shopping this book around, I’m not sure I’m cut out for it anymore.

Thanks for writing exactly how I feel.

25 Terry Elisabeth { 09.16.10 at 10:35 am }

Wahaaaaaaaaaahhh !! Good one.

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