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What To Expect When You're Expecting A Book

Holly Robinson: "Probably nothing has prepared me better for the life of a writer than parenthood." (Nic McPhee/flickr)MoreCloseclosemore
Holly Robinson: "Probably nothing has prepared me better for the life of a writer than parenthood." (Nic McPhee/flickr)

At this moment, there is little more than a withered scallion and an old container of beans in my refrigerator. The laundry has risen to Himalayan proportions. Tidy, unread newspaper logs are piled on the counter. I've been wearing the same sweatpants for a week.

I have been on a deadline to finish a manuscript for my editor. The only other times my house has ever looked this bad were when my children were small.

I have been on a deadline to finish a manuscript for my editor. The only other times my house has ever looked this bad were when my children were small.

“That's so exciting!” people say when they hear that my job as a novelist revolves around making stuff up. “You're like Hemingway!”

Not exactly. I'm not alternating hours of writing with chasing ambulances and big game. I'm too busy being a mom. On the other hand, probably nothing has prepared me better for the life of a writer than parenthood.

When I got pregnant the first time, I joyfully anticipated gliding through the gilded gates of motherhood. I was ready to be transformed into someone wiser and more adept in the kitchen. I would squat to give birth naturally, without the aid of pesky medical intervention, and then I would rise and nurse my baby, build his toddler brain power with organic foods, and raise a multilingual classic musician who could also program computers. Or something.

Then my first son was born, and all hell broke loose. He was breech and I had a Cesarean, which took weeks of recovery. He had trouble nursing, and my mastitis was so painful that I spent hours weeping in the shower. I never slept. Forget organic foods. We were lucky to have crackers and an old stub of cheese in the house.

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Similarly, when I sold my first book, I was convinced the hardest part was behind me. I had a book deal! I was ready for my Oprah moment. Instead, what followed was an editorial letter informing me that the publisher was pushing back the publication date so I could make “significant changes.” As in, I had to rewrite the whole damn book. And, following publication, instead of Oprah calling, there was a brief flurry of reviews and then: radio silence.

As I entered my second pregnancy, I was confident that I had this whole motherhood thing sorted. By then, I could diaper with one hand while using the other to dial for takeout. I hired a midwife and was looking forward to using my vast store of knowledge about infants and toddlers to create the perfect family of four.

The birth of my second child confirmed my view that I was in the know: easy, natural. However, the minute she was born, I discovered that every child is a unique mystery to be unraveled one crying spell or school crisis at a time. I had to feel my way through parenting as blindly as I did before. The first child was an easy sleeper and a peaceful toddler. This one fisted her tiny hands and screamed through the night. Her tantrums grew as she did, and mostly revolved around insoluble problems, like insisting that pajamas were the right thing to wear to school.

(wackystuff/flickr)
(wackystuff/flickr)

Likewise, my second book was problematic from the start. The characters refused to behave on the page. The point of view was all over the place, and the narrative tension sagged. Sometimes that manuscript was so bad, I had to give it a time out.[/tweettext] Eventually, though, my agent sold that book, too. The result was a beautiful, grownup novel. I'd never been so proud.

By now, I have three children and two stepchildren. Every child has presented new challenges, whether they involved school science projects that nearly burned the house down, or teen heartbreaks that drove us crazy because they took place via texting while we were on a family vacation and trapped in a car together.

Just as there is no sure prescription for an easy birth or a well-behaved, healthy child, there is no set formula for successfully writing and publishing a book.

Now, as I get ready to launch my fourth novel, and with another one in the oven, I realize there is little point in expecting anything. Just as there is no sure prescription for an easy birth or a well-behaved, healthy child, there is no set formula for successfully writing and publishing a book. Even now, no matter how well things have gone in the beginning, about two-thirds of the way through every manuscript—let's call it “adolescence”--I despair, because I'm sure this book will never become a civilized read. The pages are a minefield of immature sentences and sullen plot points.

It is always a miracle to me when the novel eventually makes it into a bookstore. Writers, like parents, give birth to lively, imperfect creatures. We love them with a passion that borders on the divine. They make us crazy as we try to mold them, make us sad when they leave us, and go on to live their own imperfect lives. Sometimes, all we can do is watch and say, “Wow. I didn't expect that.”

Holly Robinson Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Holly Robinson is a novelist, journalist and celebrity ghost writer whose newest novel is "Folly Cove." She is also the author of "The Gerbil Farmer's Daughter: A Memoir."

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